Motor racing: Consistent Vettel has advantage: Villeneuve

[…]A melange of bloodthirstiness, difficulty and danger is what defines F1, says Jacques Villeneuve, who compares F1 drivers to gladiators.
A melange of bloodthirstiness, difficulty and danger is what defines F1, says Jacques Villeneuve, who compares F1 drivers to gladiators.PHOTO: ALICIA CHAN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

German maintains his intensity better than erratic Hamilton, says the former world champion

Just one point separates Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Formula One drivers' standings, but Vettel's consistency will give him the edge going into the second half of the season, according to 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.

"It seems like Vettel can keep his level all the time, whereas Lewis has had some ups and downs. Some weekends he's amazing, some weekends you don't know if he's in the car or not," said the Canadian yesterday.

Villeneuve was in town for the RSA Conference 2017 Asia Pacific & Japan at the Marina Bay Sands Convention Centre, where he gave a keynote speech on data and risk management in Formula One.

The Vettel-Hamilton rivalry took an ugly turn last month after the German swerved into the side of the Briton's car during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, believing that Hamilton had brake-tested him.

Vettel has since issued an apology for the move described by his rival as "disgraceful", but Villeneuve insisted the German had done nothing wrong.

"That was nothing, 10 miles an hour, who cares? Lewis did something to him (Vettel), and he got angry and he did it back, that's it," said the 46-year-old.

"It looked bad on TV, it's not the right image to show our youngsters but ultimately who cares - it's fun, and that's what people want to see."

VETTEL DID NOTHING WRONG

That was nothing, 10 miles an hour, who cares? Lewis did something to him (Vettel), and he got angry and he did it back, that's it.

JACQUES VILLENEUVE, ex-F1 champion, on the clash in Azerbaijan.

The Canadian, who raced in F1 for 10 years (1996-2006) with teams such as Williams, BAR Honda and Sauber, is no stranger to rivalries and contentious collisions.

In the final race of the 1997 season, seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher - trailing Villeneuve by a point in the standings - had deliberately turned into the Canadian's car as the latter passed him.

Villeneuve had the last laugh, however, securing the title by finishing third despite a damaged sidepod, while Schumacher was disqualified from the championship for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Still, not every rivalry needs to descend into dangerous driving.

"It really depends on the respect (between drivers). You can have amazing battles, but you can still keep it clean, respectful," he said.

"With some drivers though, it's just impossible. The winning is more important than the respect, I guess."

And, despite the veneer of harmony projected by every F1 team, a driver's first rival is always his team-mate.

Villeneuve's priority in the 1997 season, for example, was to "destroy" new team-mate Heinz-Harald Frentzen, touted as Williams' successor to Damon Hill, the 1996 champion.

"When you see two team-mates happy that one has beaten the other on the podium, that's not true, that's not human," he said.

"If you get beaten by your teammate, everybody judges you as not as good, because it's the same car."

A melange of bloodthirstiness, difficulty and danger is what defines F1, said Villeneuve, who compares F1 drivers to gladiators.

"You need to keep a certain level of risk and danger in F1, for these drivers, these men to be special. For people to look at them and think, wow, what they're doing I couldn't do," he said.

"What has damaged F1 is having drivers come in at 17, 18 years old. You have a little bit of money, you practised a lot on the simulator, you can be in F1. It looks too accessible, too easy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2017, with the headline 'Consistent Vettel has advantage: Villeneuve'. Print Edition | Subscribe