BOOK OF THE WEEK : Living up to a famous father

Jacques Villeneuve - In His Own Right By Christopher Hilton (Patrick Stephens, pounds 9.99)
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The Independent Online
The proliferation of dynasties in motor racing perhaps says much about the insularity of pit and paddock people, but does the son of a famous driver necessarily inherit the father's ability? It is a question posed in another of Christopher Hilton's short stories about Formula One personalities.

The ever-resourceful Hilton goes to a clinical geneticist in pursuit of the answer and comes up with the conclusion: "The fact that your father was a high-level driver does not automatically make you one, but what you receive from him, allied to growing up within a racing atmosphere, does seem to give you a better than average chance."

Given that better than average chance, the son then seeks to prove to the world he is his own man. Damon Hill, currently commanding the world championship, recently exceeded the number of grands prix wins achieved by his father, Graham, and expressed a sense of having established himself in his own right.

Jacques Villeneuve, Hill's team-mate at Williams-Renault this season, appears almost indecently obsessive in his crusade for emancipation. But then the power of The Name he is endeavouring to escape cannot be gauged by statistics. Indeed, it is not.

Gilles Villeneuve competed in 67 grands prix, had six victories and was never world champion. He probably would have been in 1982, the year he was killed at Zolder. He had, however, attained legendary status through his fearless driving in a Ferrari. After his death, at the age of 32, the legend passed into the realms of mythology.

In Italy, the homeland of Ferrari, the appearance of the Canadian's son on a race track inevitably lured the media pack and the attention took its toll. Many concluded Jacques was a pale imitation of his father.

It was only after he fled from the pressure to Japan that Villeneuve junior's career began to take convincing shape. He moved on again, back to North America, and won the Indianapolis 500 on his way to becoming the IndyCar champion.

As usual, Hilton tracks down characters who have known, influenced or crossed paths with his subject, and will doubtless update the book if and when Villeneuve proves a success in Formula One.

Those who find IndyCars a second-rate irritation may feel inclined to give that section short shrift, but the detail of the Indy 500 is well worth digesting.

Hilton emphasises the studious and methodical approach to racing adopted by Jacques, in sharp contrast to the often reckless, cavalier attitude of Gilles. Some suggest this essential difference makes the son "better than his father" and gives him "much greater long term potential".

Now there is a burden to carry.

DERICK ALLSOP

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