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JACQUES VILLENEUVE HEADLINES PACKED FINAL DAY AT AUTOSPORT INTERNATIONAL15-Jan-2017
A star appearance from Canadian racing hero, Jacques Villenueve, was the highlight of another packed day at Autosport International with the F1 and CART IndyCar Champion drawing huge crowds.
Winner of the 1997 F1 World Championship, Villenueve was 1995 CART Indycar Champion and also won the Indianapolis 500 in the same year. He remains the only Canadian to win either the Indianapolis 500 or the Formula 1 World Championship, let alone both.
Celebrating 20 years since he beat Michael Schumacher to the 1997 F1 Drivers’ World Championship in the final race of the season, Villeneuve joined host Henry Hope-Frost on the Autosport Stage, appeared at the F1 Racing Feature and numerous autograph signing sessions on the day.
Villeneuve started by talking about his unique education, which was thanks to his father, the famous Ferrari F1 driver Gilles – “I think I spent half my time in school and the other half in a Ferrari garage” – and then went on to describe his love for F1.
“After my CART championship and Indy 500 win, F1 was the next natural step. Even compared to what I’d been doing, the cars looked maddeningly fast and when I arrived, I just felt really lucky to be in F1. I had the best opportunity thanks to Williams and a great teammate in Damon Hill. For the 1996 season, I gave him a few surprises but mostly I learned from him.”
He gave Michael Schumacher a few surprises too with a daring overtake at Estoril that year. “We’d done lots of winter testing at Estoril and to me the final corner looked like an oval corner. I told my engineer Jock Clear that I could overtake on the outside in the race. He said, ‘Okay, tell us which lap you’re going to do it on and we’ll come with a spoon to pick up the pieces.’
“I put the car right to the outside, kept my foot in and when I went round Michael, I got onto the marbles, but there was a backmarker just ahead on the straight and I picked up the tow and completed the move. Michael was angry after that race as no one had beaten him that way. It really hurt his ego.”
The two came together – literally – at Jerez in the final round of the 1997 season, an incident which decided the championship. “That weekend there was great energy in the air. I'd been very vocal about Michael’s driving, how he'd won before. There was one place on the track where I could see I was braking later. I went for it, braked maybe one metre later than him and put two wheels on the grass.
“He hit me. I knew my car was damaged so I drove slowly, avoided kerbs, braked earlier. I learned after the race that the battery had been knocked out of its stand and only the electrical cables were keeping the connection together. It held to the finish line. Sometimes it's just meant to be.”
Villeneuve came third and with Schumacher’s DNF, the finish was enough to make him 1997 F1 world championship. The Autosport Stage also played host to Williams Martini Racing Deputy Team Principal, Claire Williams, and Head of Vehicle Performance, Rob Smedley, along with Red Bull Racing Chief Technical Officer, Adrian Newey OBE. included Red Bull Chief Technical Officer Adrian Newey and a surprise appearance from TT racer John McGuiness who was visiting the show with his son and joined Henry Hope-Frost on the stage for an impromptu interview.
Thanks to celebrity appearances from Villeneuve today and Dario Franchitti MBE on the Saturday, not to mention a host of exclusive features, this year’s Autosport International has been a huge success.
Williams Martini Racing kicked off its 40th anniversary celebrations at Autosport International with a spectacular immersive feature, which saw visitors enter through a 1977 Williams F1 garage, go on a tour of four decades of the famous team and emerge in a 2017 pit garage.
Fans could also get close to a host of contemporary F1 cars on the grid at the F1 Racing stand, while there was also celebration of 50 years of Formula Ford – including Ayrton Senna’s Van Diemen – a mesmerising line-up of all seven remaining Lotus 49s and an eye-catching display of competition RS500 Cosworths at the Performance Car Show to mark the car’s 30th anniversary.
In addition, the Live Action Arena featured stuntman Terry Grant’s nail-biting loop-the-loop performance, a celebration of 50 years of Rallycross and an exhilarating Time Trial with BTCC icons going head-to-head.
Autosport International would like to thank everyone who visited over the last four days – please save the date for the 2018 show taking place from 11th – 14th January.