• 1997 world champion may return as owner, driver – or both
• Hispania team’s financial struggles may free up place
Jacques Villeneuve, the 1997 world champion, has submitted an entry for Villeneuve Racing to become the 13th team on the Formula One grid next season, although it is unclear whether the 39-year-old Canadian intends to return to the sport as a driver, an owner, or possibly even both.
Villeneuve’s entry has cleared all the technical and financial checks imposed by the FIA and he must now wait to see if his entry is accepted. There are believed to be two other teams in contention to join the world championship next season, the American Cypher Group and Joan Villadelprat’s Spanish Epsilon Euskadi operation.
“I’ve never made it a secret that I’m working hard on an F1 project,” Villeneuve told the BBC. “But I’ve not discussed the details or what my plans were and I won’t be drawn on it now. I’m not commenting.”
Villeneuve walked away from Formula One midway through the 2006 season. Since then he has been attempting to race in the Nascar series in North America but his efforts have been stymied by lack of sponsorship. “There is an element of truth in the [F1] rumours,” said Villeneuve’s manager, Rick Gorne. “It’s a project we’re working on.”
Villeneuve, whose father Gilles was killed in a Ferrari during qualifying for the 1982 Belgian grand prix, was a successful single-seater racer before he joined Formula One in 1996 as Damon Hill’s team-mate at Williams. He won the 1995 Indianapolis 500 and that year’s IndyCar title, but his F1 career fizzled out after he won 11 grands prix in his first two seasons.
Jack Brabham is the only driver to have won the world championship in a car bearing his own name in 1960, and the only other owner-driver to have won a grand prix is Bruce McLaren, although many have tried.
What might aid Villeneuve’s path back to Formula One are the increasing rumours that the Hispania team are experiencing financial difficulties and that there may be places available for two new teams. The FIA is expected to announce the identity of the successful applicant next month.