Jacques Villeneuve’s former race engineer Jock Clear believes the 1997 F1 world champion’s achievement in Formula 1 as a driver are underestimated.
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Villeneuve made a spectacular entry into the sport in 1996 with Williams, winning four races and finishing runner-up to teammate Damon Hill in the championship that year.
But the Canadian went one better in 1997, snatching the world title at the last round after a dramatic showdown with Ferrari’s Michael Schumacher.
But Villeneuve left Williams at the end of 1998 to pledge his allegiance to BAR, an outfit set up by Villeneuve’s good friend Craig Pollock on the foundation of the former Tyrrell team.
But good results were few and far between for the son of the great Gilles Villeneuve whose F1 career gradually faded before it grounded to a halt with BMW Sauber in the second half of the 2006 season.
From the outset, Villeneuve and Clear formed a strong partnership at Williams, and the British engineer gladly followed his protégé to BAR later on.
In hindsight, Clear believes that Villeneuve’s accomplishments and the Canadian’s legacy are under-appreciated in the grand scheme of things.
“I don’t want to over-defend Jacques in a sycophantic way, but I think people do underestimate what he achieved as a driver,” said Clear on a recent episode of F1’s Beyond The Grid podcast
“Because there’s still lots of people who say: ‘Yes, but he wasn’t really a worthy world champion’. But you think, given he won IndyCar and he won the Indy 500 and he came over and absolutely annihilated his team mates in a strong car, but then of course he had opportunities… to go to Benetton, he had opportunities to go to McLaren…
“People will say he wasted the rest of his career. Well, that [BAR] is now the team that is dominating F1 so he can probably sleep well at night knowing that he started the team that is currently dominating F1.”
Read also – Clear: Button’s mental quick start key to 2009 title
Recalling Villeneuve’s day of glory at Jerez in 1997 – when a tussle between the Williams driver and Schumacher with 22 laps to go in the European Grand Prix led to a clash between the two drivers and to the German driver’s demise – Clear recalled how he and Villeneuve approached the day armed with a rock solid confidence.
“I remember throwing back the sheets and saying ‘let’s go and win the world championship’, and I know that Jacques would have said the same,” said the Ferrari engineer and driver coach. “He didn’t show any nerves. I think he was very prepared for that day.”