Jacques Villeneuve prefers the “excessive” F1 of the past, compared to today’s “sober” equivalent.
“It’s not boring,” said the 1997 world champion, “but it’s not the same.”
F1 has grown and evolved in the almost two decades since the French Canadian beat legend Michael Schumacher to the title, but the sport has found itself in a period of soul-searching amid declining spectator interest.
“It begs the question,” Villeneuve, now a television pundit, told La Presse newspaper in Montreal. “What do we want from F1?
“For me, this sober F1 is not excessive. For me it’s not gladiatorial, which is what made me love the sport. Often there was no real action but people recognised the talent and risk that these drivers were taking and playing with.”
Asked why F1 is lacking some of that today, 45-year-old Villeneuve answered: “Because it’s forbidden to hurt yourself, I guess.
“There is this position of the FIA to put an emphasis on road safety and use F1 to push that image.”
He said F1’s democratic voting systems have also hurt the sport, but said Force India and Sauber’s argument that huge budgets are to blame is not right.
“The budgets were always huge,” said Villeneuve. “Formula one is not socialism. If you’re not good enough, well, go home, that’s all.
“If you look at some small teams, like Manor or Sauber now, they don’t even try to be an F1 team, they are just trying to survive. F1 is a business — it was never the purpose to have everyone within the same second.”
The problem, Villeneuve argues, is that F1 has become not only obsessed with safety but also ‘the show’.
“We tried to turn F1 into a TV show, and that’s the big mistake. Now we have lots of passing but never on the edge of your seat, wondering if the driver will make the pass. There’s nothing exciting about it now.
“We have to stop saying that F1 is just a show. F1 is supposed to be extreme; it’s supposed to be expensive; it’s supposed to be something unreachable.
“It’s supposed to take a driver six months to be physically able to drive the car.
“No, F1 is now a show, F1 is the pinnacle of motor racing and a show in itself. In their day, everyone looked at Prost and Senna and said ‘In my life, I will never be able to do that’, and that was enough to make people dream,” said Villeneuve.