Villeneuve and the Williams connection

Two Formula E stories with Williams connections have surfaced in the past few hours.

The first is that Formula E chiefs gathered for a two day event at the Grove, UK, headquarters of the engineering firm and racing team. Williams Advanced Engineering, sister company to the F1 team, is providing the battery packs that power the Spark-Renault racing car that all teams will use in the first season, and the event afforded team bosses the chance to get a little more familiar with the technology they’ll be wielding.

Little is publicly known about the battery technology that will feature in the car, apart from regulations that state that the packs must be capped at 30kWh and weigh no more than 200kg. Best magazine believes that Williams will build the packs using lithium nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC) batteries produced by LG Chem.

The first shakedown runs of the car in December used an 8kWh battery – it’s not been confirmed whether the car is now testing at full power. The electric motors and control units are being provided by McLaren, along with a gearbox thought to be a six-speed transmission sourced from Hewland.

The event was hosted by Sir Frank Williams himself. Also present were FEH head Alejandro Agag and Formula E team principals, including Alain Prost who heads up e.dams.

Prost, of course, raced for Williams in F1 and won a drivers’ title with the team in 1993. And now it seems that another former Williams champion might be angling for a Formula E position: Canadian driver Jacques Villeneuve. Pablo Chaterji, managing editor at Motoring World magazine, took to Twitter to reveal the rumour in circulation at the Delhi motor show, where a Spark-Renault in Mahindra Racing colours was unveiled.

PabloChaterji tweetWhile that might seem like nothing more than radical conjecture, Formula E has proved adept at springing surprises, from the inclusion of Prost to teams backed by Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Branson – and lining up McLaren, Williams, Dallara and Renault as its suppliers.

Villeneuve as a driver choice could bring mixed blessings. He’s a bona fide F1 world champ, and has IndyCar titles in the bag too. He is the stuff of marketers’ dreams. Born into a well-respected racing dynasty? Tick. North American appeal? Tick. European appeal through connections with a well-loved British F1 team and French Canadian heritage? Tick. Appeal to conventional motor racing fans (including NASCAR)? Tick. Kudos as world beater in not one, but two different top level open wheel motorsports? Tick.

However, Villeneuve won the F1 championship with Williams in 1997, and his US titles even earlier, in 1995. Given that Formula E is setting out to appeal to teenagers, much of the sport’s fan base may not even have been born when he was on the top step of the podium. Not so much a “so last year” as “so last century”.

It would risk rendering his presence irrelevant at best and provide more ammo to Formula E detractors, who are currently delighting in charging the sport with only being able to attract F1 has-beens as drivers.

Our opinion? It’s well known that many in F1 do not land their seats through ability alone. Money has a large part to play; plenty of “F1 rejects” are sublimely talented drivers who simply lack a rich family or significant sponsor. It’s also worth noting that on Formula E’s tight, twisty tracks, with lower top speeds and short race durations, age may not be the issue that it is in F1. We could well find that drivers who have retired from 200mph madness can entertain, excite and tussle with the best of them in Formula E. In that case, Villeneuve may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to driver signings in the new sport.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia.


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