AUSTIN, Texas | Jacques Villeneuve will never be able to thank the Alpine team enough for this golden opportunity which was offered to him a few weeks ago to test a modern Formula 1.
The activity took place on the mythical circuit of Monza, in Italy, where the French team had organized a short test session for him to mark the 25th anniversary of his conquest of the world title.
The manufacturer Renault renamed its Formula 1 team after its subsidiary Alpine a few years ago.
However, it was aboard a Williams powered by Renault that Villeneuve was crowned champion at the Jerez de la Frontera circuit, in Spain, on October 26, 1997.
Unless one second from Ocon
Villeneuve completed around 20 laps at the wheel of an Alpine A521 similar to the one Esteban Ocon drove to his first F1 victory l last year at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Despite his 51 years, he quickly adapted to driving a Formula 1 he had not driven since his last race in 2006.
So that at the end of his ride, he clocked in just nine tenths of a second off the benchmark time set by incumbent driver Esteban Ocon, who was at his side advising him at Monza.
“It's unbelievable how cars evolved. The efficiency of the brakes is spectacular. Especially since it is not necessary to press the pedal fully, ”said an amazed Villeneuve.
Jacques Villeneuve took advantage of the wise advice of the incumbent driver of the Alpine team, the Frenchman Esteban Ocon.
'Like a time-lapse movie'
After his first five laps, one of the team engineers asked him to return to the pit after studying its pilot's behavior using telemetry.
“He told me that I was downshifting too early before approaching the turns. When I got out, I corrected the situation and lowered my times.
“These cars stick to the track in an impressive way, he added. You can approach curves at very high speeds with a lot of confidence.
“It was a mind-blowing experience. The car felt so stable and, all in all, quite easy to drive. There's a lot of grip. »
His laps were filmed and the images were broadcast on the French network Canal +, for which Villeneuve is an F1 Grand Prix analyst.
“The brain has trouble understanding speed. You're grounded and you feel like you're watching a fast-paced movie. »
The team had everything planned, even a personalized racing suit.
On Canal +, Villeneuve talked about the three races he competed in in 2004 with Renault.
“It brought back many memories for me. I even saw familiar faces again, 25 years later. I feel privileged, at 51, to have had this unique chance to drive such a recent F1 car.
“This test will remain etched in my memory forever. It was Christmas! »
Jacques Villeneuve was all smiles at the end of this test which he will remember all his life.
Praises from the boss
Quoted by French colleagues, the sporting director of the Alpine team was particularly impressed by the behavior of Villeneuve.  ;
“He had this desire to learn and fit in to do the best job possible. He listened to all our recommendations to the letter,” said Alan Permane.
“He showed unparalleled professionalism and improved his performance throughout the day. He can be proud to have been close to the fastest time obtained last year in the race by our pilots. .