Jacques Villeneuve exclusive: The F1 personnel being left behind by ‘brutal’ race scheduling

Thomas Maher
Monza: 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve speaks to PlanetF1.com at the Italian Grand Prix.

Jacques Villeneuve believes some of the F1 paddock are being left behind by the brutal nature of some of the race scheduling.

1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve believes some calendar scheduling choices are proving particularly tough for the mechanics and the media.

The 2023 F1 season ended with a double-header that forced the F1 teams to decamp from the United States over to the Middle East after scheduling the Las Vegas and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix on consecutive weekends.

In 2024, the same demand will be made of F1 personnel, but as part of a triple-header for the final three races of the year as Las Vegas, Qatar, and Abu Dhabi are held on consecutive weekends.

Jacques Villeneuve: Las Vegas kicking off triple-header will be ‘brutal’

With the inaugural Las Vegas weekend also resulting in bleary-eyed personnel due to the on-track sessions being held at all hours of the morning, the scheduling of such a punishing run of races will prove particularly tough on the front-line staff of every F1 team.

Jacques Villeneuve, speaking in an exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com, said he has sympathy for the crews behind the scenes that make everything happen.

“That’s gonna be brutal,” he said when asked about the scheduling of the triple-header.

“Already, the double-header late in the [2023] season, flying back from Vegas – it’s not an easy airport to fly from so getting here… it’s OK for a big team because they can rent a big plane, put all the mechanics in it, and fly.

“It’s really brutal for the media – I think this is the group that is being left behind in all that is happening. The cost of everything is going up, hotels, travelling, these trips have become very, very complicated.

“But, for teams, they find ways to travel. Staff rotations can work but it’s hard on the staff. The timezone is in the wrong direction because you lose time by coming in instead of gaining.

“It makes it very hectic to set everything up, set the teams up, catering, and all that. It takes time and that’s a little bit rough.

“To have three in a row, although Qatar is not far from here, will be very tiring, especially at the end of the year and the season finishing in December. It’s tough for the mechanics as well, not the drivers.”

Villeneuve pointed out that the workload for drivers nowadays is actually less than during his time as an F1 driver, but the mechanics are the ones who have had their duties increase over the years.

“If you look at the days when there was testing, there were fewer races, but a lot of testing,” he said.

“So the amount of mileage and days on the track for the driver was more back then, but you had two teams, a test team, and the race team. So the mechanics actually had time to go back home and so on – it has become brutal on the mechanics.”

Put to him that F1 has become a young person’s game – and one that has the potential to prevent relationships and normal lives at home being led by the people working in it – Villeneuve said that choosing to work in F1 means making a choice about your personal life.

“You [could] both work in the industry,” he said.

“It stops you from having children. It’s a choice. It’s a job of passion. You’re aware of that when you start it. So you can’t complain afterward.

“Because, when you get into it, you were happy to do it, to travel, to do this. It’s a choice you make, nothing stops you from having a job at home.

“New guys that come into the sport, they know what they’re getting into. It’s the ones that were there when it was 17 races and it’s been moved up, that kind of blocks their choices a bit.

“But the sport is as big as it’s ever been. So you can’t complain. Nobody wants to go back to a smaller sport.”

PlanetF1.com recommends

F1 2024 calendar: Car launch dates, pre-season testing, TV schedule

B teams explained: The strict FIA regulations Red Bull must abide by with rebrand plan

Jacques Villeneuve: Las Vegas GP gave a great show

With the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix providing one of the best nail-biters of the 2023 season, it put to bed some of the criticisms that had been made coming into the weekend about F1 blurring the lines between sport and entertainment.

But Villeneuve said that, as long as the on-track racing remained unsullied, there’s no reason to complain about any of the extra-curricular activities on the timetable.

“Anything that happens outside of the racing, the more the better,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter, that’s the show. The race itself was great – that was sport. That’s what we want, it was a great race. The track lent itself to that.

“There were not too many corners, not too many high-speed corners so the cars could follow each other without overheating the tyres. Long straight lines, good tows, heavy braking. It gave a good show.

“So the racing itself gave a good show and everything that happened outside of the driving, why should you want less? That’s fun. The fans need something – nothing wrong with that.

“You have to see the big picture – the fans, as far as the drivers are concerned with the millions they’re making, [will say] ‘thanks for the show’!”

One noteworthy incident from the Las Vegas weekend was when Carlos Sainz picked up a grid penalty due to damage picked up on his Ferrari, caused by a loose water valve cover that ripped into the floor of his car when he drove over it.

With Sainz and Ferrari blameless for the incident, a push for a negated penalty proved fruitless as the stewards were unable to look the other way as the Spaniard needed new components fitted.

A case for a way to overlook such incidents in cases of force majeure is something that may end up discussed at the F1 Commission level but, for now, Villeneuve said there was no other way to deal with Sainz’s incident.

“[The penalty was] obligatory, because once you can put new parts on your car, that’s an advantage, so Sainz, sadly, was very unlucky because, once again, he was competitive and that destroyed his weekend,” he said.

“With the parc ferme rules and all the limits on components, it is very difficult to turn such an unlucky moment into something fair – you can’t turn a disadvantage into an advantage. There is no fair way to resolve it.

“So you can’t suddenly say ‘Put in a new engine, lucky you’… It’s the price to pay with the limits on engines, gearboxes, batteries, and the limits imposed by the rules – rules that go against the spirit of F1 in the first place.

“The only thing they could have done is give a free pass on the budget cap for these damages.

Read next: Max Verstappen grilled on mega Red Bull salary that eclipses Lewis Hamilton pay