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On This Day: 15th September 2004 - Villeneuve tests for Renault, signs for Sauber // The World Champion takes a last minute race seat

Published by Christine

The 2004 Japanese Grand Prix sees Villeneuve wearing blue and yellow.
The 2004 Japanese Grand Prix sees Villeneuve wearing blue and yellow.Credit: Renault F1

Jacques Villeneuve won his one and only championship in 1997 behind the wheel of the Williams FW19. It was a good year for him, even with the small matter of a disqualification for one race. He scored ten pole positions, and picked up seven wins, which was enough to see him end the year on top - the driver's champion.

He stayed with Williams the following year, but left for a much-hyped seat at BAR for the 1999 season. The team were brand new and very exciting, but they had almost zero reliability. Villeneuve retired a whopping 12 times out of 16 races, and picked up zero points. Even so, Jacques stayed loyal and stuck with the team until 2003. Their performance improved, but there were only a couple of third place podiums along the way to keep Villeneuve happy. In his final year with BAR, he was criticised for allowing relative newcomer Jenson Button show him up. He was replaced in the final Grand Prix of the year by Takuma Sato, only partly because the race was in Japan.

On the outside, looking in

2004 saw Jacques without a race seat, and he was forced to watch F1 from the sidelines. Towards the end of the year, Flavio Briatore was taking a good look at his Renault team, and wasn't happy with what he saw. Jarno Trulli was not working out as he might have hoped, and they were keen to bring someone else on board. With mid-season testing still allowed, Flav's people got hold of Jacques' people and on the 15th September 2004, the Canadian found himself being strapped into the R24.

We have reached an agreement for Jacques to test for the team at Silverstone on Wednesday and Thursday. This test might lead to Jacques joining the team for the final three races of the season beginning next week at the Chinese Grand Prix.

- Flavio Briatore

Which it did, but before that was confirmed, Villeneuve couldn't hide his eagerness to get back on the grid. It wasn't all about the racing, either, as Jacques had a personal score to settle with his old team as well.

Renault's goal is just to beat BAR, really, to be second in the Constructors. That's the goal... It would be... yeah, it would be great, just because of the way it ended.

- Jacques Villeneuve

A dish best served cold

So, Villeneuve did manage to join the team, but Renault didn't achieve their goal of finishing second. BAR grabbed the position by 14 points, although that made no difference to Ferrari who won the title by well over 100 points that year. Perhaps Jacques was not as spurred on as he might have been, as he'd already secured a drive for 2005.

Just hours after sitting in the Renault for that first initial test, Sauber confirmed they had signed up the former champion for a two-year contract.

I am extremely excited to be back in F1 with the Sauber Petronas team, and I appreciate the confidence everybody is showing in me... It is my goal to work with Peter and his team to bring them forward in the championship during the next two seasons.

- Jacques Villeneuve

Sadly for Sauber, Villeneuve managed that goal just as well as he managed the aim to get one over on BAR. It all ended in tears, as Jacques was replaced towards the end of the season by Robert Kubica, and has not been able to get back on the grid since then. There were rumours surrounding a potential return with Stefan GP, although that team never officially got off the ground. The freshest batch of speculation turned Jacques into a team owner, with a desired entry for the 2011 season. As we've recently seen, the FIA have not granted a new entry for next year, so Villeneuve will have to wait a little bit longer to get his revenge.