Craziest weekend ever

The craziest weekend ever


With my background as a Latin teacher, I could easily read Spanish newspapers; but on this morning of October 26, 1997, I didn't need a dictionary to understand the caption of a front-page photo from Jerez's newspaper.

Three men had climbed on the Saturday afternoon on the podium where the winner of the next day's race would be celebrated and had held up bottles of champagne there to support the efforts of Jacques Villeneuve. 

I knew the three sides. Marcel Aubut, André Ouellet, former Liberal cabinet minister in Ottawa and Alain Vachon, Roots sportswear distributor for Quebec. 

Alain Vachon of Roots Canada, Marcel Aubut and former Liberal cabinet minister André Ouellet allowed an “illegal” visit to the podium the day before the race.

The police had arrested them and when they had explained that they had come from distant Canada (the three were federalists), they had just been asked not to do it again.

Basically, they were just in the atmosphere of this completely crazy weekend. The craziest of my entire half-century career.

To reassure myself before writing, I met the ex-girlfriend of Alain Vachon's time and Marie-France told me that Mr. Vachon had not been traumatized at all by the adventure. Marcel Aubut kept the photo. André Ouellet had already gone wrong when he became a Liberal minister.

Their biggest punishment was to be flayed by André Arthur on Quebec radio.


Even before I got to Jerez, I knew it would be silly. The Montreal-Paris flight was full of Quebecers heading to Jerez. And on the Paris-Seville flight, colleagues from L’Équipe, from Figaro, from Parisien,from TF1, came to join hundreds of regular colleagues on the coverage of F1. 

It converged on Jerez from all over the world. From Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Finland, Poland. Name a country and chances were a local reporter was in Jerez.

The war between Williams and Ferrari had been so fierce, so dirty at times, that the Formula 1 season was transformed into a great soap opera. A telenovella.

In addition, the personalities of Jacques Villeneuve and Michael Schumacher were an absolute contrast. Villeneuve was a pretty loudmouth who said what he thought. Schumacher was saying what needed to be said.

Before the Canadian Grand Prix, the FIA ​​monks had forced Villeneuve to make a round trip on Wednesday from Montreal to Paris to explain himself to them. This is no excuse, but Villeneuve had failed in the second round in Montreal.

And Jean Todt, the big boss of Ferrari, would become president of the FIA ​​a few years later.

In other words, all of Formula 1 wanted a victory for Ferrari and acted accordingly.

< p>It would have been the best season ever of Drive to Survive if Netflix had existed at the time.

When I set foot at the Jerez circuit, the tension was felt. To be cut with a knife. Daniel Poulain from Radio-Canada had been sent to shake things up. And his stentorian voice had been very useful when Craig Pollock tried to push himself without answering questions. Rest in peace, Marquis de la Pouliche.

Even the colleagues from Toronto were there. That's telling you. For once, Formula 1 had crossed the Ottawa River.


Louis Butcher told you about the miracle of the first three positions. Same time to the nearest thousandth of a second. Have you ever tried to measure a thousandth of a second? It's a hundredth of an eye blink. It's nothing. To reach a tie, it took less than a dust in the curve of a century.

And you know why we didn't go and check until the 10,000th of a second? 

Because the best technicians and the best Tag Heuer equipment were in Tignes, France for the start of the 1997-98 Ski World Cup season during the same weekend. We needed even greater precision to measure the parallel and giant races in the French Alps.

When we tell you that this was probably the most exciting weekend for a journalist in half a century, we do not exaggerate. The slightest act and gesture was scrutinized and when Villeneuve went to speak in Eddie Irvine's helmet after free practice in the morning, the whole paddock vibrated.

We had to retain Christian Tortora for the prevent you from kicking your ass the Irish way.


Now let's talk about Torto. You know the watchword of American sports journalism: No cheering in the press box. It could be translated as: No cheers in the press gallery.

Well, the watchword took the edge off that afternoon in Jerez. 

< p>Even Céline Galipeau was all pissed off. Torto had set himself up with his microphone for RDS in the middle of the large crowded press room. With his French radio musketeers. Grigri, Lulu, Babu and the other journalists from the world Francophonie who had gathered in a block of the room. Bernard Chevalier and Didier Braillon with three others from L'Équipe, Lionel Froissart, Swiss, Belgians, Quebecers… plus the Spaniards united against the Germans and Italians united by Ferrari and Schumacher .

When Villeneuve passed Schumacher who sank into the sand, we heard the most formidable ovation ever released in a press room. Great delirium. Torto had tears in his eyes, he who still spoke of Jacques Villeneuve calling him “the kid”.

In my collection, this helmet (serial number 001) of Jacques Villeneuve when he wore the colors of the BAR stable.

Me, I pumped my pipe until the stove burned. A nice $200 Blatter. An unforgettable pipe that I have kept for all these years. A trophy.


But we missed the real party. The real party.

When it was all over. When we managed to send the 15 pages of texts for the next day's newspaper. When we put away the still very big and heavy computer in those years of another century, we went crashing into a restaurant in Seville where we would take the plane the next day.

We ate in the sweet Andalusian night, we recounted memories of a few hours ago then we went to bed hoping to be able to take the plane the next day to go to Paris. 

Obviously, all the flights were oversold and we found ourselves on a waiting list.

While we finally slept for a few hours, Schumacher, the big bad guy, and Jacques Villeneuve, the hero and herald, met in a bar-disco in Seville and sang a duet while Schumacher accompanied the new Simon and Garfunkel on guitar.

Twenty-five years later, I still feel sorry for having missed the tune of Villeneuve. I wouldn't have needed to buy his CD.