Changing tracks

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

41

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

As he turns his back on Formula 1 for the cut-and-thrust of NASCAR, Jacques Villeneuve reflects on life away from the track, and muses on why music nourishes his soul

By Rob Widdows

The more you talk to someone, the more of someone you talk to. This is very much the case with Jacques Villeneuve, son of Gilles.

Behind every great man, there’s another man. Behind the image of Jacques Villeneuve, feisty racing driver from Quebec, there lurks a deeper soul, a creative force that has recently been released to the world in the form of a compact disc. Talking to him about his music reveals the influences that have shaped his life, from growing up with Gilles, to jousting with Michael Schumacher, to picking up his first guitar on the way to the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos in the spring of 1996.

“I was passing through London on the way to Brazil, and I saw this guitar in the window of a music shop,” Jacques explains. “I’d always wanted to learn to play so I bought it and took it with me to the race, along with a guitar tuition book. I’d learnt four chords by the end of the weekend at Interlagos, then I started writing my own songs.”

There was music in the family. Jacques’ grandfather was a piano tuner and Gilles played both trumpet and piano, while his sister Melanie spent six years at New York University studying music and composition. Born in the Canadian city of St Jean–sur–Richelieu, Jacques spent most of his early years in Monte Carlo, Gilles and his mother Joann moving to Europe when Gilles broke into grand prix racing. But his early musical influences came as much from Quebec as they did from his teenage years in Monaco.

“I was into Erasure, that was my first album. There was a Canadian band called Glass Tiger that I liked a lot,” he recalls, “and later I was into The Cars, Foreigner, Crowded House, Tracy Chapman, people like that. I was always buying CDs – hundreds of them – and they were always my thing. Some people buy watches, I was always into collecting CDs, and anyway it was cheaper. Now I listen more to the Scissor Sisters which is, you know, 1980s stuff really well done. And Beautiful South is one of my favourites: I like their songs very much. I don’t like noise – music needs to be clever for me to enjoy it. Very simple, but clever.”

His antipathy to what he calls noise comes partly as a result of having had a huge noise just behind his head for most of his life. Interestingly, however, he cites parallels between his music and his race driving.

“Yeah, as racing drivers we get an ear for the revs, the way the engine is performing, and we sense those noises and engine vibrations through our bodies. It’s the same for me with the guitar. I like to hold it close to me, to feel the sound if you like,” he explains, “and I always play acoustic. I don’t seem to get on with the electric guitar, so with the acoustic I can hold the body of the guitar close to me and that way I feel it as much as I hear the sound.”

He likens playing in a band, or jamming with other musicians, to being on the grid surrounded by other cars. “After 17 years of racing I think there are elements of my hearing that have been affected,” he explains. “I mean, I can’t take in lots of information all at once; like if you talk to me in a crowded restaurant I probably won’t hear you at all – just too much information coming at me. On the grid for a race you can hear all the other engines and sometimes you can’t hear your own. It’s strange, a bit like in an orchestra, hearing everyone else as well as your own sound. I prefer to play on my own: I get lost when I’m just jamming with other people.”

Jacques Villeneuve is in many ways a loner rather than a rebel, a man who likes to do his own thing whatever the restraints imposed upon him by others. Some of this may have come from his father, from whom he inherited his passion for racing cars.

“I was brought up with it, and now I can talk about it,” he smiles, “but when I first went into Formula 1 I didn’t want to talk about my dad, you know. Everybody wanted me to talk about him, to tell them stories and stuff, and the media wanted to know why I didn’t wear his helmet colours and all of that. But I just wanted to do my own thing, make my own way, and I thought, when I’m winning – when I’ve won a title – then maybe I will talk about him. But this would be on my own terms, not just feeding people the stories they wanted to hear.”

We are talking in the family motorhome in France. Jacques, his wife Johanna and baby son Jules are on the road, working up to Le Mans. Just like the old days with Gilles, racing kit and baby clothes, guitars and toys spread around their home-from-home.

“Yeah, well, there was always lots of travelling with my dad, living on the road from track-to-track. There was this speed and excitement in my childhood with him,” he says. “I remember when I was five years old he sat me on his lap behind the wheel in the car and we went flat out everywhere, the tyres screeching and sliding on the snow and the ice. We went snow-mobiling a lot, and he took me in his helicopter, let me fly a bit, stuff like that. There was always speed, always some excitement, but that’s how we lived. He was always pushing the envelope, stepping out to the edge, and I have inherited some of that. I need that edge, I need that speed, like my dad did, and I relate to it now because I push myself in everything I do. I want to do the best possible job whatever it is I’m doing and I believe you have to work, always work at things. Second-best is not acceptable.”

The song in memory of Gilles was originally conceived by Jacques’ sister Melanie and on the album she sings it as a duet with him. “It’s the only really private song I’ve written,” he explains. “My sister started it but she couldn’t finish it at the time. She just couldn’t face it, and I think maybe she was keeping dad alive in her mind by not completing it. So I wrote some new lyrics, not my own feelings about him, but new words to blend in with the feel and the sound that she had created. It became a work-out, a real puzzle, because I had to work all the words together, hers and mine. She was happy with the result and in my mind it’s always her song – I was just happy that I could close that song for her, you know. But, yeah, it’s a song for my dad and I can talk about him now. I can say how much I admired him, how much I respected him, especially now more people understand that I did my racing for me, won my championship for me, and not just because I was a Villeneuve.”

At the height of his grand prix career there was much talk about his feisty relationship with Michael Schumacher. The mention of the name causes him to tense a little, knowing what’s coming. “Look, it never was such a big deal for me. I mean we weren’t friends; we are not friends. We had some big arguments but it’s history. There were dangers with him but mainly it was racing. We knew each other on the track, you know. I knew what he would do – what he could do – and he knew the same about me. But weaving or braking on the straight is never acceptable and I can’t accept that in any driver so yes, we had our fights, and of course I always wanted to beat him. It was a battle of minds as much as anything else, knowing what the other guy will do. You have to show the guy that you won’t be driven off the road.”

I decide to push further. Passing Schumacher in the Parabolica Ayrton Senna at Estoril in 1996. Any thoughts? “Yeah, I wish there was more video pictures of Estoril,” he laughs. “It wasn’t such a big thing at the time for me. In testing there earlier in the year, I said to the Williams engineers that I reckoned it was possible to pass on the outside of that corner and we worked on the set-up. Maybe it was an Indycar thing but I knew it was possible and I was pretty happy to pass him there. I knew it could be done.”

He’s not going to expand on Jerez a year later when he and Schumacher collided at the Curva Dry Sack, another fracas recorded by the Ferrari’s on-board camera. “Well,” he shrugs impatiently, “I can say that the young drivers now think they are bullet-proof, that they can do anything, get away with it and not get hurt. There’s too much weaving and blocking, and that’s not allowed. The new guys don’t seem to get this and somebody’s going to get hurt: motor racing, including Formula 1, is dangerous.”

So, the past is the past and the future is, well, the future is more motorsport. Jacques plans to return to the Le Mans 24 Hours, keen as ever to add the endurance race to his F1 and Indycar titles, but the big push – the big thing – is NASCAR. In August, Jacques signed for Bill Davis Racing and he will spend the latter half of the season in the Craftsman Truck Series before graduating to the premier Nextel Cup in 2008. “It’s not as easy as people seem to think it is,” he insists. “It’s far more technical than it appears to be. We’ll see what happens.”

What happens will not be dull, will not be without the hard edge that underpins his life. His fans – and there are many – will relish seeing him take on the hard nuts of stock car racing. Jacques will do what he wants to do, and on his terms. The story is by no means finished.

You may also like

Related products