F1 2003 Championship (Part I)

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The 2003 F1 season proved to be Villeneuve's last season in B.A.R. After Graig Pollock had been dismissed the previous season, many believed that it was time for Villeneuve to leave the team as well. And the new message from David Richards for the incoming season made clearer his intentions as he begun to debate deliberately over Villeneuve's champion-rated salary which was distinguished as the fly into the milk. "Jacques needs to decide what he wants. It is not practical for us to hire drivers like Michael Schumacher at this stage of our development. Villeneuve, if he wants to stay at BAR, will need to accept a substantial pay-cut to his lucrative salary negotiated by close friend Pollock."

With one year left to run on his under-threat contract, Villeneuve appeared to have falsely turned down an attractive proposal to spend a season racing back in Champcar World Series, in terms of "F1 sabbatical", before returning to BAR for 2004 and 2005. The purported deal, tipped at some $26 million over 3 years, included a year of driving the Player's backed ChampCar in the US, while BAR chief David Richards added a further 2-years at BAR for 2004 and 2005, and was produced after an accordance of Chris Pook, CEO of ChampCars World Series, Gerald Forsythe, Team Forsythe owner and Players Ltd owned by BAT.
After Villeneve's manager Craig Pollock verbally rejected the proposal from the American trio, he requested that a written, formal offer had to been put on the table in order to be negotiated.
David Richards claimed "The people in North America made an offer to me as to what their contribution would be, but no firm financial offer was made to Jacques because it wasn't worth discussing... It wasn't at the appropriate level that Craig had indicated would be acceptable, so I didn't waste anyone's time by offering it officially."
The North American party, however, formally requested that David Richards submit a written offer to Pollock and Villeneuve. Forsythe said: "I phoned Dave Richards on Friday and respectfully requested that he put the offer in writing ...and if I don't get the answer I want, I will go right to the top of BAT."
In tandem, David Richards contacted Gerry Forsythe back at his Forsythe Player's CART team with the news that Pollock and Villeneuve had respectfully - and officially - turned down the offer. However, Villeneuve claimed that he was spoken about an offer which was never actually produced for him to sign.

Although David Richards kept looking ways to push him out of the team, the French-Canadian decided to stay loyal to his contract and full motivated for strong racing performances like every professional sportsman. In fact, a possible dismiss of Villeneuve earlier than the end of 2003, would oblige B.A.R. to compensate him with an amount equal to his salary putting team's budget in trouble.
Therefore, Richards' plan was to extend Villeneuve's isolation from the team. His first move was to replace the sympathetic Olivier Panis with the British promising star Jenson Button about whom, he began talking soon as a future World Champion. Villeneuve bristled with indignation at a perceived lack of respect and responded instantly on the track demonstrating his driving skills.

Yet Villeneuve’s season was plagued once again by both unreliability and misfortune while the gearbox, electronics, hydraulics, brakes systems and Honda's engine all failed on at least one occasion.
On the contrary the BAR005 was undoubtedly a fast car, although its speed was undermined by its Bridgestone tyres, comparing the excellent performance of Michelin tyres in other teams. According to Villeneuve during the preseason testing, the BAR005 was the fastest car he had driven since his racing days at Williams.

Despite the fact that Villeneuve had been out-qualified for the first time by his teammate, albeit by just 8-7 score, he usually had to carry more fuel than his teammate in the qualifying sessions, following Richard's methodology about different pit-stop strategies for his drivers. On average, when Button out-qualified Villeneuve, it was by a margin of 3.125 positions, whereas when the Canadian out-qualified his team mate, there was a 4.2 positions gap.
The Canadian scored only 6 points, finishing twice at 6th place at the Brazilian and at the Italian Grand Prix, while Button scored 17 points. Nevertheless, Jenson Button’s car was relatively unaffected by these mechanical problems that tantalized Villeneuve's car during the races, failing only 3 times in comparison to Villeneuve's 9 retirements.

The season started wrongly at the "Foster's Australian Grand Prix" when Villeneuve's engine blew up during the unofficial free practice session.

Despite his engine's problems, the Canadian qualified provisionally 3rd, at Friday’s qualifying session, with a blistering time gap of 0.46s to session leader – Rubens Barrichello.
Villeneuve reckoned; "I'm really surprised with 3rd because we did hardly any running or set-up work this morning. I only completed two laps so I didn't know where to be on the race track, where to brake. I had to switch to the T-car and I thought that was it for the day; I thought we'd be qualifying 15th or something."

The Canadian finally qualified strongly at 6th, but he finished 9th in the race, just ahead of his teammate.Jacques Villeneuve described his decision to pit in Melbourne on the lap intended for team-mate Jenson Button as a problem with the radio communication in his BAR Honda. "I had radio problems so it was very difficult to communicate with the pit wall and both cars ended up pitting at the same time," the 1997 world champion said.

But Button took a different view. "It was very frustrating that we made the wrong tyre choice at the start and for my team-mate to come in on the wrong lap was disappointing and quite embarrassing, really," he said, diplomatically.

The Englishman had been right on Villeneuve's tail but lost 13 seconds while the team had to move his tyres and fuel out of the way and grab Villeneuve's from the garage.
Villeneuve simply quoted
"It took a long time to get the tyres working and I didn't get enough time on any set. Our strategy would have been good without the safety cars but things definitely didn't work out for us today."

The "Petronas Malaysian Grand Prix" in Sepang was Villeneuve's shortest race in his racing career as the BAR005 failed to leave the grid on the warm-up lap due to a gearbox failure. In addition, when he returned at BAR;s paddock to take the reserve car and start the race from the pitlane, he was told by David Richards to return back to his car, not permitting him to race at all!
Before leaving the circuit, a frustrated Jacques commented;
"We didn't look too good in qualifying but we were confident for the race. We couldn't show it though because of an electrical problem from the start. Bad luck, but that's life." And as proved later that was also the story of 2003...

Villeneuve earned his first season points at the "Grande Premio do Brasil" in Interlangos after "surviving" from the chaotic wet conditions of the circuit.

The race was eventually "red flagged" after Fernando Alonso crashed into the wreckage of Mark Webber’s Jaguar on lap 55, with only 9 cars on track.
Alas, ITV’s James Allen was just commenting about Villeneuve's impressive performance just before Mark Webber crashed before the pit straight with 17 laps left of the race; "Take a look at Jacques Villeneuve. He’s just done the fastest first sector of the race... his best lap of the race,... he’s beginning to come into the frame...and a huge crash for Webber..."

After the race, Villeneuve criticized his fellow drivers for reckless driving in the wet conditions of the race.
"There wasn't that much water really... It's down to the drivers to be less crazy in those conditions, and there was some crazy driving out there..."

At the Gran Premio Marlboro de Espana, Villeneuve qualified 11th but he was obliged to retire very early in the race, at the 12th lap, due to electrical failure of his car.

Even though Villeneuve had no mechanical problems at the "A1 Grand Prix von Osterreich" in A1-ring, he finished 12th, a lap down from the race winner as his car stalled during his second pitstop.

Villeneuve had again an unpleasant weekend during his home Grand Prix Air Canada with many problems caused by his breaking system.
During the wet free practice session, he had an embarrassing spin in front of BAR's pitwall upsetting his Team Manager.
Villeneuve qualified back on 14th position but after only 14 laps in the race he retired as his breaking system failed for one more time.