Jacques Villeneuve Q&A

Jacques Villeneuve's career took a turn for the better when he went to the Japanese F3 series in 1992. Competing against current BTCC stars Rickard Rydell, Anthony Reid and Tom Kristensen, he scored his first victory and was regarded as a serious prospect for the first time. Since then he's had a soft spot for the country. In 1996 and '97 he took pole position for the Japanese GP - and is thus the only man apart from Michael Schumacher in the current field who has been on pole at Suzuka. This weekend he returns to Japan as a works Honda driver, and having fought for a podium finish in the last two races, he could be a contender again this weekend. Adam Cooper spoke to the Canadian star

Jacques Villeneuve Q&A

Q: Japan was very important to your career when you raced there in 1992. How do you feel about going back each year?
"It feels great. I have lots of memories because I was there for a year, and not only the racing was good. It helped me because I got away from the basics of international racing. When you're in Europe all you think about is F1 and you're thoughts about anything else in racing are completely blocked. Going to Japan allows you to have an open mind and just to race for the sake of racing. That's great. But it was also important as a growing up thing. Partly because you leave everything you know behind, and there's nobody you know around. You get there, you arrive in the airport, you don't know anybody, you get in a bus and go to the hotel and start living, and figure out your way in life. That's mostly why it was important, more than the driving side itself."

"Yes, because it was very open between drivers. It was like being at university. You have the races, a little of studies basically, and then you go out and have a drink. Even the lunch during the day when you're testing and qualifying you might have a coffee, see the other drivers, and have a laugh. Then it would be time to get back in the cars. So it was very laid back."

"I love Suzuka, the track is beautiful. Qualifying has gone well, but the races themselves definitely have not worked for me."

"I was happy that I was starting from pole, but then I had a bad start and lost a wheel later in a race. Every year the race has not worked well. In my championship year (1997) I was disqualified before the race because of speeding under yellow flags on the straight, so it's never been a very successful Sunday for me. It's been better on Saturday!"

"We're not quick enough yet. I don't want to see the reaction yet, I'd rather wait until next year, once we get more competitive."

"Japan is always special anyway. There's always a huge crowd, and it's a little bit special. Of course going back there as a Honda driver, I'm sure it will make a difference."

"Yes, it's very important to have an official engine supplier that works hard, that puts all the energy and all the engineering they have without stopping, to make sure that the project works. That's very important."

"Yes. Communication at first was a little bit difficult of course, compared to working with French people or English people, purely because of the language barrier, and also because of the way you were brought up and the way you think about things and the way you react to things. But the experience I have from Japan, the one year when I was racing there, has been really, really helpful for the work I can do now with Honda."

"It's good seeing the engine progress, because at the same time it forces the team to have car progress. Now the team can't blame the engine, for example! So the team has to make progress itself. So it's good, because it pushes both ways - the team pushes the engine, and the engine pushes the team as well."

"There's been a lot of progress from the team, but the other teams have also made a lot of progress as well. If we gain a second, then the other teams will gain half a second, so that still leaves us behind. So the results haven't been good lately, but the car is competitive, so it's not too bad. I think Hungary was the most difficult race. We qualified very poorly, but once we got into the race the car was really competitive, and actually that was one of the races where we were the quickest, and that was on a track that really didn't suit us. So I think it's looking good for the rest of the season."

"Our high downforce package is not good, and we can't put enough downforce on the car. Our maximum downforce is a lot less than other people's downforce, so on tracks like Hungary and Monaco, where you just bolt a lot of wing on the car, we're quick down the straight - but that's not very useful on a track where there's no straight!"

"I'm very happy to see the public reaction after two very difficult seasons. More people recognise what I do now than when I won the championships. So that makes life easier."

"Yes. This year was a building year. Next year for once there will be a continuation, and we won't be starting from scratch."


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