1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve’s former race engineer Jock Clear explains how the Canadian laid the groundwork for Mercedes’ modern Formula 1 success.
The modern Mercedes F1 team has its roots in the old British American Racing team that made its debut in 1999.
Sure, to start their own F1 team British American Tobacco bough the old Tyrell team, but it was actually just a spot on the grid, as there was no infrastructure behind it.
The new team would be called British American Racing, and would be run by Jacques Villeneuve’s manager Craig Pollock.
Ant truly, the team would be built around Villeneuve who left Williams to start his journey into the unknown, out of loyalty to his friend and business partner Pollock.
The team was not very successful in its first season in 1999, with no points scored, but they did start to build a foundation for future success, by building their new high-tech factory in Brackley and by assembling a crew of people, some of who are still working for Mercedes even today.
The team would get more successful after taking on Honda as their engine supplier for the 2000 season and beyond. Honda ultimately bought the team at the end of 2005 and renamed it Honda Racing F1 Team.
At the end of 2008 Honda decided to pull out of Formula 1 and the team was bought and saved from the brink of collapse by Ross Brawn. In 2009 the team famously won both the drivers’ and the constructors’ titles, and at the end of the year was sold to Mercedes. The rest is history.
Throughout this time the Brackley factory and most of the key personnel remained intact.
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To return to the beginning of this story, Jacques Villeneuve was instrumental in starting up the team, and has driven for it until he was released by new team principal David Richards, ahead of the penultimate race of the 2003 season.
Jock Clear, who worked with Villeneuve during his time with Williams and BAR, and worked for Mercedes when it returned to Formula 1 in 2010, now says the Canadian was somewhat of a founding father of Mercedes’ current success.
“Jacques had opportunities to race elsewhere, at McLaren or Benetton, but he followed his friend Craig Pollock to the BAR adventure,” Clear explained on the Beyond the Grid podcast.
“I certainly don’t regret being his accomplice, but the challenge was more complicated than we thought.
“Nonetheless, the structure he had helped create became a great success years later. First with Brawn GP and then under the leadership of Mercedes.
“Some thought Jacques was putting pressure on his career at the time by making this choice, but he did it out of loyalty and he can sleep comfortably today watching Mercedes win Grands Prix,” concluded Clear.
For better or worse, no one can argue that Villeneuve was a very important person for the team that later became one of the most successful teams in Formula 1 history.