OCTOBER 18, 2004
The redemption of Jacques Villeneuve
Jacques Villeneuve goes to Brazil this week with a mission. The French-Canadian needs to re-establish his reputation in his third race for Renault F1 or he faces a winter of rumour, despite the fact that he has a two-year contract with Sauber. The Swiss team signed Villeneuve on the assumption that he would return to F1 as strong as he was before he disappeared from BAR at the end of 2002 but Villeneuve has not performed as hoped at Renault. The decision by Sauber to sign Villeneuve came as a big surprise and there are certainly some people within the team who believe that it was a mistake and that the team should have waited until it had tested the Formula 3000 Champion Vitantonio Liuzzi. Liuzzi's test was a big success but the Italian has no intention of signing up as a third driver at Sauber and is still actively looking for a job elsewhere. It is going to be difficult to get a race drive in 2005 although much depends on what happens with Jaguar Racing and Jordan. There are small hopes of a drive with either Williams or BAR (depending on what happens to Button) but the teams seem to be rather too conservative to take such a big risk. If all else fails, however, Liuzzi will get a test drive with either Ferrari, Williams or BAR although obviously he would like a longer-term commitment which involves a race deal, having seen what has happened to some of the other F1 test drivers in recent years.
If Villeneuve does not shine in Brazil, Sauber will be under pressure to do something and although Peter Sauber is a man who is famous for keeping to his deals, he could be under pressure from Credit Suisse (the firm which not only sponsors the team but also owns it).
Villeneuve says he is confident of doing a better job.
"Suzuka was a tough race for me, so the team altered the testing schedule to allow me to run at last week's test in Jerez," he said. "The aim for that session was to get to know the car better and explore different setups, but to also to get some more time to help with my physical conditioning. We didn't do as many miles as we would have liked, but it was important to get more experience with the R24. Hopefully, it will enable me to run more competitively in my last race for the team in Brazil. I want to end my time at Renault with a good performance after two hard races and bring something back to the team. I definitely want to finish in the points."
In order to beat BAR to second place in the Constructors' Championship Renault must score 16 points with BAR getting nothing.
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