Jacques Villeneuve Is Right That New Formula 1 Regulations Make Sport "Fake"

Matthew Walthert@@MatthewWalthertFeatured ColumnistFebruary 15, 2014

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 25:  Jacques Villeneuve driver of the #51 Pepsi Max Crew Holden prepares for practice for round nine of the V8 Supercars Championship Series at Sydney Motorsport Park on August 25, 2012 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)
Brendon Thorne/Getty Images

Jacques Villeneuve has never been known for pulling punches. When he has something to say, he says it, a refreshing change from many drivers in the paddock.

And last week, on BBC Radio 5 live, the 1997 Formula One World Champion had something to say about the current state of the sport. Villeneuve took aim at a number of targets and, for the most part, he was right on the mark. 

First, he ripped into the new regulations supposedly designed to make F1 more interesting and exciting. The Canadian driver said:

They started going the artificial way, to try to create a fake show, imposing tyre changes and different tyres and then DRS where you press a button and you can overtake somebody else. And once you start going down that route, you can't stop. You just have to make more and more and more of it, so now we have double points for the last race, and what's the next thing that will come? 

The double points rule—despite what Villeneuve's former teammate Damon Hill thinks—is probably the worst rule change in the history of F1. To think that anybody, let alone the majority of the F1 Strategy Group, think it is a good idea is mind-boggling.

The argument that awarding double points for the final race will keep the championship more interesting later into the season, thus boosting television ratings, is nonsense. At most, the title chase might be kept alive for one extra race some seasons.

Bernie Ecclestone
Bernie EcclestoneMark Thompson/Getty Images

And besides, if F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone was serious about wanting more viewers for the sport, he would stop moving the races to pay TV.

The tyre regulations that Villeneuve spoke of have also been controversial. In another bid to make the racing more exciting, Pirelli was asked to create tyres with high degradation. The results have been mixed, but the biggest problem is that often drivers have been forced to drive slower to preserve their tyres.

Not exactly the point of a 'race'; particularly one in the series that is supposed to be the pinnacle of motorsport.

As for DRS, the Drag Reduction System, it is the most frustrating of the recent changes to make F1 more exciting. It is frustrating because it actually works: It does create more passing, as promised. However, it reduces the skill needed to make those passing manoeuvres.

As another outspoken former driver, Eddie Irvine, put it, according to Atlas F1:

Loads of overtaking is boring. It's like fishing. You go fishing and you catch a fish every 10 minutes and it's boring. But if you sit there all day and you catch a mega fish—and an overtaking manoeuvre now has to be mega, it isn't going to be easy—and you come back with stories that you caught a fish this size [indicates big fish] instead of 55 this size [indicates small fish].

Although driver aids such as traction control are banned in F1, DRS certainly makes passing too easy on some tracks. Drivers can just bide their time behind the car in front of them until they reach the DRS zone. With the reduced downforce once the system is activated, the driver being passed is usually defenceless.

Aside from the rule changes, Villeneuve was also critical of the current roster of F1 drivers, saying: 

It's quite a habit now not to have personality anymore in Formula One. You can imagine a driver who gets a lot of money from sponsors being told "OK, don't say that, please," and fine, he will toe the line. ... But, when more than half the field are pay drivers...they should at least have a little bit of personality. They don't even have that. So they're not fast, they pay to race and then they're highly uninteresting on top of it.

Harsh words, but it is difficult to argue. While there are certainly still some characters on the grid (see, for example, Kimi Raikkonen), it is much easier for drivers to just stick to the talking points provided by their teams and sponsors.

Of course, this is not only a problem in F1. In general, professional athletes do not have much to gain from being controversial or provocative in interviews. They are already making a lot of money and they do not want to risk offending fans or sponsors.

Villeneuve's point about pay drivers is right on, though. There are too many of them, and they do not make the sport better.

Finally, Villeneuve also commented on innovation and F1's applicability to road car technology. The Canadian said that the current engine rules are "overly restrictive" and that F1 is, "not a laboratory anymore, like it used to be. ... Just open it up so new things can be invented that will then be good for the road, that will then save fuel and so on."

The Villeneuve family—Jacques at the wheel—in 1979.
The Villeneuve family—Jacques at the wheel—in 1979.Getty Images/Getty Images

With many of the new regulations, though, F1 is trying to make its technology more relevant. And fuel economy is certainly a focus for 2014.

Villeneuve has been part of the F1 world for almost 40 years. He was six years old when his father, Gilles, drove in his first grand prix. So, even if you do not agree with everything he says, his opinion should be respected.

In this case, though, Villeneuve has correctly diagnosed many of the problems with modern F1—if only he could get Ecclestone to listen.

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