Yesterday evening, Venturi announced that former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve will drive for them in the upcoming Formula E season; replacing Nick Heidfeld. The news sent shockwaves throughout motorsport, as Villeneuve is the first former F1 champion to join the grid. Make no mistake – this is huge news in the world of Formula E and a statement of intent from the Monaco based Venturi team.
It’s fair to say that Villeneuve had a fairly front-loaded F1 career in terms of success. He won the championship in just his 2nd year as a Formula 1 driver, famously beating Michael Schumacher in the 1997 title decider at Jerez. Unfortunately his ill-fated moved to BAR in 1999 proved a step in the wrong direction and Villeneuve was never provided the chance to fight for the championship again. He eventually retired in 2006 after a period of un-competitiveness in F1 machinery.
Why Formula E?
Jacques was one of the more outspoken drivers when Formula 1 moved to grooved tyres for the 1998 season; the tyres produced significantly less mechanical grip than the wider, grippier tyres of his championship year and as F1 moved towards better and more sophisticated aerodynamics, Jacques fell behind.
Formula E could provide Villeneuve with an opportunity to remind the world of his talents, It’s a series where mechanical grip is vastly more important than aerodynamic performance and as a result Jacques should immediately feel comfortable exploring the limits of the cars.
For Venturi the move is more than a publicity exercise. After a disappointing first season where they struggled to compete with the likes of eDams-Renault and Audi Sport ABT, the signing of Villeneuve is a reminder to the world that they are still a force to be reckoned. Let’s not forget that Venturi hold multiple records when it comes to electric performance cars – you can’t write them off for next year.
Of course, the biggest winner in all of this is Formula E. Despite the off-season being relatively quiet, news of Villleneuve’s signing has got people talking about the series once again. He may be a controversial character to many motorsport fans but Villeneuve’s name still has an X-Factor to it, and his signing proves that Formula E has significant appeal to racing drivers despite the outright speed of the cars.
The series may be in its infancy, lacking the history and long fought rivalries of other racing categories; but Formula E is history in the making, and we already have a championship story waiting to unfold. The fans have a reason to tune in to Beijing and the FIA now have extra ammunition when it comes to selling the series to interested stakeholders. Formula E continues to gain momentum even during the break…who would have thought?
Written by: Anil Parmar