Villeneuve may face race-off for drive

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The Independent Online

Jacques Villeneuve may have to take part in a Fame Academy-style contest if he wants to keep his Formula One seat. The 1997 World Champion could have to race off against several rivals for the drive at BAR in 2004 although, incredibly, attitude and presentation will also be judged in a high-speed pageant that would be ridiculed as a gimmick by much of the paddock if it goes ahead.

The BAR team boss, David Richards, said he might approach Villeneuve with the idea to determine who would be Jenson Button's team-mate next season. Button's girlfriend, Louise Griffiths, recently participated in Fame Academy, a reality television show where aspiring singers are voted out by an audience. That sparked Richards' interest.

"Formula One is supposed to be a sport," Villeneuve said. The Canadian admitted after last weekend's Italian Grand Prix that he has not yet received any offers of a drive for next season.

The 32-year-old, whose lack of corporate talk and desire not to engage in team promotional activities has made him enemies, will surely turn down any invitation to the show, especially given his pedigree of 11 grand prix wins and an IndyCar title.

Villeneuve has also reacted to Richards' charge that he must change his attitude if he wants to partner Button next year. "I have never worked so hard in my life," he said.

"If my attitude is a problem then there is no change that could convince David," added Villeneuve, whose fifth - and possibly final - season with BAR will earn him a reputed £13m.

Villeneuve equalled his season's best finish in Monza last Sunday with sixth place. Though that still left him six points behind Button's 12, the Canadian has been dogged with reliability problems.

Richards is quoted as saying: "Jacques is not out of the equation but we have told him it will take significant changes of attitude to convince us that he is the driver we need in our team.

"We are not trying to sanitise the guy completely but he has to face up to the responsibility of being a lead driver in a Formula One team."

Richards is understood to be under pressure to secure fifth place in the constructors' championship. Villeneuve's sixth spot in Italy might have swung it BAR's way as they now lead sixth-placed Jaguar by one point with two races left.

An early idea to have the winter race-off in Bahrain has already been dismissed as the new circuit, which will host its first grand prix on 4 April, currently has no asphalt and will not be ready until March.

In reality, who gets the other seat will surely be decided by the ongoing battle within the Brackley-based team involving sponsors Lucky Strike and engine suppliers Honda.