Jacques Villeneuve ‘deeply disheartened’ after ‘unjustly’ losing Le Mans drive

Henry Valantine
Jacques Villeneuve enters the Formula 1 paddock. Le Castellet July 2022.

Jacques Villeneuve enters the Formula 1 paddock at the French Grand Prix. Le Castellet July 2022.

Jacques Villeneuve has said he is “deeply disappointed” to have been dropped by Vanwall for the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours in June, revealing he only learned of his replacement through the team’s public announcement.

The 1997 Formula 1 World Champion had signed for Vanwall in their new Hypercar entry this season, attempting to add overall victory at Le Mans to his F1 crown and Indy 500 victory, having won at the Brickyard in 1995.

But having discovered that Tristan Vautier will be driving for the team in his place at the Circuit de la Sarthe in June, the Canadian has decided to step back from the World Endurance Championship altogether this season, with Vanwall having retired from two of the opening three rounds this season.

The team themselves reportedly owed the decision to replace Villeneuve for Le Mans to a lack of mileage in their car this season and the recent birth of his daughter, though he explained he was adamant he would have been able to balance the commitment of the race and this sizeable life event.

As a result, he feels his seat has been “unjustly” taken away for the centenary running of the legendary 24-hour race, and will now focus instead on putting together a “professionally fulfilling” schedule for next season.

“I am deeply disappointed to have learned of my replacement for the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours, through a public announcement released by the Vanwall Racing Team ByKolles on May 25th, 2023,” Villeneuve said in a statement.

“To date, I have not received any official communication from the team, which is even more surprising given that I am still under contract to participate in the Le Mans 24 Hours.

“The timing of the release strangely coincided with my impending arrival at the hospital for the birth of our baby daughter, which had been planned for May 26th.

“ByKolles was well aware of this personal family event, rendering me unable to respond or address this sudden announcement.

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“As a racing family, we have always successfully balanced our personal lives with our professional careers, with racing always holding a prominent place.

“In fact, my preparation for the Le Mans 24 Hours event was meticulous and well-organised. Considerable time and effort were dedicated to achieving peak physical and mental readiness for this extraordinary challenge that I was really looking forward to.

“Following victories in the Indy 500, IndyCar and the F1 Championship, the Le Mans 24 Hours holds special significance for me.

“Consequently, I am deeply disheartened that the opportunity to participate has been unjustly and arbitrarily denied.

“Under these circumstances, I have made the decision to abstain from participating in the remainder of the WEC season with ByKolles.

“Instead, I will redirect my focus and energies towards preparing for a more successful and professionally fulfilling 2024 racing season.”