Columns - Big Al

My instinct tells me Villeneuve will be on the move


I've always felt that weather forecasters rely as much on instinct bred from long experience every bit as much as on the apparent scientific analysis of previous trends and other evidence at their disposal. So it is with Formula 1. You can analyze all the facts on the table in front of you in a bid to determine just how future events will unfold. But ultimately, a sniff of the air and a dampened finger held up in the breeze has very often proved the best way to reach the correct conclusion.

In 1995, I watched Nigel Mansell's body language as he walked out of the garage at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya after retiring his McLaren-Mercedes from the Spanish GP. Inwardly, I knew he'd just driven his last race for the team. And I can honestly say, I always knew the relationship wouldn't last. Not necessarily because of a clash of culture between Mansell and McLaren, but because they were fundamentally out of step with each other. Mansell was at the stage of his career when he was looking for a competitive car and the McLaren-Mercedes partnership had not yet gelled into that very product.

Applying absolutely the same principals, I think there is no doubt whatsoever that Jacques Villeneuve will quit the BAR-Honda team at the first available opportunity. David Richards will probably, ultimately, take the team to a level of success which they can only currently dream about. But BAR was Craig Pollock's baby and the team was built round Jacques. No matter how it may be explained or rationalized, the relationship between Richards and the 1997 World Champion is fundamentally untenable and will be made more-so with Pollock still sitting in the team's motorhome in the role of Jacques's manager.

In my view another minor indication of the underlying tension was the fact that Olivier Panis - not Villeneuve - drove the new BAR 004 on its short demonstration run down to the team's factory entrance on its official unveiling before Christmas. Why not Jacques? Because he was still shell-shocked over the fact that Pollock had been deposed by sponsors BAT at the head of the team he had founded.

As I've said before, I have a lot of time for David Richards, but he won't be achieving F1 glory with Jacques Villeneuve. Last week DR was quoted in Motorsport News as saying "Jacques is an extraordinary talented driver."

Depending on your viewpoint, that was either a bit like suggesting that the Titanic was rather damp, or an entry for the legendary Basil Fawlty's "Special Subject, the bleeding' obvious" contest. Either way, it is an awkward situation, fraught with potential pitfalls, frustration, resentment and tension.

That is why Richards and Villeneuve will ultimately go their own separate ways. Prove me wrong, boys. Prove me wrong.