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The generation game

The generation game 01

Jacques of all trades
For some, racing is a family business. And while there are several notable ‘sons of’ (such as Nico Rosberg) and ‘brothers of’ (such as Ralf Schumacher) a more extended racing family is a rare thing.
But not if you cross the Atlantic. In the United States, you’d need the services of a competent genealogist to decipher all the different generations and relationships of Andrettis that have graced the country’s racing circuits.
And further north, in Canada, there’s another racing dynasty that stands out, with a name that’s arguably just as iconic.
Of course, we’re talking about the Villeneuves. Everyone has heard of Gilles Villeneuve, and also of Jacques, world champion in 1997.
But what of the other Jacques Villeneuve? Jacques-Joseph Villeneuve is the younger brother of Gilles (whose full name was actually Joseph Gilles Henri Villeneuve) by three years and he too enjoyed a Formula 1 career – albeit a fleeting one. 
It could have been so much more. He turned down a Marlboro contract to race in Italian Formula 3, with a promise of an Alfa Romeo F1 drive in year two, because he didn’t want to move to Italy. In the end, the drive went to Mauro Baldi.

The generation game 02

Canada dry
Nonetheless, at the end of 1981, Jacques had two drives in an Arrows, replacing Siegfried Stohr – but failed to qualify for either the Canadian Grand Prix or the Caesar’s Palace Grand Prix. It marked a dismal end to an up and down season for the British squad, which, despite a somewhat conventional car, had pulled off the remarkable feat of a third place in Brazil and a second place in San Marino earlier in the season, courtesy of Riccardo Patrese.
Two years later – and following the cataclysmic death of his brother – Jacques was back in Formula 1, this time as a one-off driving for RAM-March. This was an even less effective weapon than the Arrows, so it was with an air of sad inevitability that Jacques failed to qualify for the 1983 Canadian Grand Prix. 
Yet there was also a twist of either irony, or redemption, depending on which way you look at it. For the RAM-March that Jacques drove in Canada was essentially the heir to the car driven by Jochen Mass a year earlier, which was involved in Gilles’ fatal accident.
Following that crash, there was a brief suggestion – fuelled mostly by the Villeneuve family – that Jacques might even occupy the vacant Ferrari, but this was never an idea that the team themselves looked at seriously. 

‘Uncle Jacques’
While his Formula 1 career never matched the heights achieved by his relatives, ‘Uncle Jacques’ (as he came to be known, when Jacques Villeneuve Jr’s career was in its ascendancy) enjoyed much greater success when it came to other forms of racing: part of the reason that he was inducted into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame in 2001.
The Villeneuve web of family relationships is complex, and the two Jacques were never especially good. Jacques Senior was quick to dismiss suggestions that Jacques Junior was as talented as Gilles, and when asked about his career regrets, answered: “I wish I’d got the breaks that my nephew got. He never sat in a shitbox.”
And yet Jacques Senior acknowledges that there aren’t really any big regrets on his part. He made his own choices. In the end he was an Indycar race winner and pole position qualifier, as well as a Can Am champion and Formula Atlantic winner, not to mention a fierce competitor at the Le Mans 24 Hours. Like the rest of his family, ‘Uncle Jacques’ was an incredibly versatile racer who would turn his hand to more or less anything.
Also like the rest of his family – coming from the small town of Berthierville, in the snowy wastes of northeast Quebec – his first love (and immunity to fear) came from winter sports. He first won the snowmobile world championship in 1982, but suffered a horrendous accident in the 2008 championship, with multiple leg and pelvic injuries, when he was in his mid-50s. 
Undeterred by nearly a year’s worth of convalescence, he eventually returned to racing – and then in 2013, flat-out as always, he had another serious accident. It was only in 2015, aged 61, that he finally retired from competition. The Villeneuve family DNA is nothing if not persistent…

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