Jacques Villeneuve, in keeping with his maverick reputation, celebrated his new 2005 Formula One contract with Sauber-Petronas by testing for Renault at Silverstone yesterday.
The 33-year-old French-Canadian, the 1997 world champion, winner of 11 grands prix and a favourite of Bernie Ecclestone, was sacked this time last year by BAR-Honda, but will return for the final three races of 2004 as the replacement for the Monaco winner Jarno Trulli, who has left Renault and will drive for Toyota in 2005. Since Giancarlo Fisichella already has a contract with Renault next season, Villeneuve will switch to the Italian's Sauber seat in 2005 on a two-year deal to partner Felipe Massa.
"I have to admit that signing a former world champion is something truly special for me," Peter Sauber, the team principal, said. "However, I want to make it clear that this was not the decisive factor. When I was talking to Jacques, I could feel that he is absolutely keen and committed to return to Formula One. He was always a great fighter."
Villeneuve said: "I appreciate the confidence everybody is showing in me."
However, the deal has incensed Sauber's sponsor Red Bull, who were positioning their protégé Vitantonio Liuzzi, the new F3000 champion, for the drive.