CART still may be in cards for Villeneuve

 by Mark Cipolloni
September 1, 2002

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Jacques Villeneuve

Just when you thought Jacques Villeneuve was not coming to CART, it appears the door may have reopened, at least a crack.  We spoke to Gerald Forsythe today regarding Jacques Villeneuve.  It appears that David Richards may have been the one who dropped the ball on the negotiations.  He claims he spoke to Pollock and gave him the verbal $50 million offer, but Pollock rejected it as part of his negotiating ploy he told Forsythe.  Therefore, Richards claimed he did not deliver the written offer.

"When I found out that Craig Pollock thought I was a liar I had my people track him down so I could speak to him myself," stated Forsythe.  "My people found Craig and we spoke.  Craig said that if the offer is in the range he saw in the newspapers, we're definitely interested.  A written offer is being delivered to Pollock by Richards this weekend in Spa and I expect to hear back from Pollock by close of business Monday."

The possible problem now is Olivier Panis has already accepted an offer with Toyota and if Richards were to lose Villeneuve too, he would be left with an entire new driver lineup.  We asked Forsythe about that and he said he told Richards he might be able to pick up the services of someone like Dario Franchitti for one year.  That would save him the money he's looking to save in his 2003 rebuilding year.  Drivers are a dime a dozen these days, so finding two new drivers won't be difficult for Richards if he wants to cooperate.

It appears this soap opera is far from over, and knowing that Pollock lost his bid for Arrows, and assuming he had an eye on moving Villeneuve to Arrows after 2003, we find it hard to believe that Pollock and Villeneuve would walk away from a 3-year  $50 million guarantee.  Stay tuned as this story evolves.  It should come to a head this week.

Original article
AutoRacing1.com was contacted by Gerald Forsythe this afternoon. He, David Richards, Bob Bexon, Chairman of Imperial Tobacco which owns Players) and Craig Pollock were not able to come to terms over a 3-year deal that would have seen Jacques Villeneuve drive for Forsythe next year in CART before moving back to F1 with BAR, this despite the fact that Villeneuve himself was interested. The amount of money Pollock demanded for Villeneuve's services was more than Forsythe and Richards were willing to pay.  It was strictly a business decision.

"We would have loved to have had Jacques, but Pollock was asking for the same salary for Jacques that's he is currently making (estimated to be close to $19 million per year) for the next three years," stated Forsythe, "and that was more than we were willing to pay."  We had to set a hard deadline of today because we had to make our plans for next year and could not let the negotiations go on forever."   Villeneuve would have been paid less than he is currently making in 2003 to drive in CART, but more than he's currently making in 2004 and 2005 to return to the BAR seat. 

"Overall the 3-year $50 million package was quite lucrative and it's unfortunate that they decided to leave so much guaranteed money on the table," stated Forsythe.

Perhaps Pollock thinks that Villeneuve can make his guaranteed $19 million next year from BAR (probably as just a test driver behind Button and Panis) and then get even more money in 2004 and 2005 from another team.  That's a big risk considering the current driver job market and Villeneve's long winless streak.  If he is relegated to test driver in 2003, which now seems very likely, he will be the highest paid test driver in history.  What's an even greater risk is how damaging being a test driver might be to his career and his chances of making more money in 2004 from another team.  It's quite possible he will be worth even less by the time 2004 rolls around, and Pollock's gamble will have backfired.

"We are now putting all of our efforts into securing an associate sponsors to supplement our Player's deal.  We are looking at running three cars in CART for 2003 and the idea is to bring on an American sponsor and a European we are talking to, as associate sponsors in 2003 with the goal of moving up to primary sponsor in 2004 if Players is not able to continue," stated Forsythe.

Considering what transpired today, we can hear a great sigh of relief coming from Patrick Carpentier already.  This almost guarantees he will drive alongside Paul Tracy and Alex Tagliani in a three-car all-Canadian Players team in 2003.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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