1997 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve launched his own racing school FEED Racing nearly three years ago, and has paved the way into single-seaters for several drivers, most notably the two winners of the competition they hold every year Marijn Kremers and Robert de Haan. Villeneuve on the success of FEED Racing.
By Perceval Wolff
It was in January 2019 that Jacques Villeneuve and his friend, former F1 test driver for BAR and ELMS champion Patrick Lemarié, announced the start of their own racing school FEED Racing. By using the Mygale M14-F4, the aim is to train young drivers without any single seater experience to learn all the characteristics of racing for only 12.000 euros, which is considered very cheap in the costly world of motorsport. The quickest driver then gets a fully-financed season in a major European F4 championship.
Villeneuve had a clear aim starting the racing school. “The motivation was to give a chance to talent, to give the opportunity to dream about becoming a racing car driver and to try to make that dream come true. To have a challenge that was meritocratic.”
He highlights the fact that his racing school is open to every background: successful kart drivers with sufficient funding, kart champions resorting to simracing due to a lack of money or even people who have no motorsport experience at all.
“We did not start FEED Racing to cater to the drivers without funds but to give a chance for talents to shine. Rich or poor. Some drivers never had a chance or weren’t even allowed by their parents to drive and had to wait until they turned 18. Some never dreamt they could give it a try.”
Dream debuts for FEED drivers
This year Dutchman Robert de Haan won the finals, edging out Frenchman Elliott Vayron by just two thousandths of a second. Following this incredibly tense event, both drivers went on to debut in Formula 4 series. And they showed some excellent results: Vayron won three races in French F4 after a mid-season debut and De Haan took a rookie win in the highly regarded ADAC F4 championship.
“The 2021 group was surprisingly strong and the finals were extremely close”, Villeneuve said. “Any of these drivers showed they had the potential for a successful career, both in driving skills and psychological strength. These strong results from Robert and Elliott, who were only rookies thrown into the championship mid-season, show that our program works.”
A satisfied Villeneuve says his racing school is a stepping stone for young drivers. “FEED Racing is already a success as it is giving opportunities and showing talent. The next success is for our drivers to have professional careers in motorsport. F1 would be the icing on the cake.”
Proper schooling in junior series is, unsurprisingly, something the former F1 world champion advocates. Especially in a time that F1 drivers seem to be getting younger and are coming in under prepared. In 2021 the F1 rookies coming from F2 (Yuki Tsunoda, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin) had a steep learning curve, despite multiple race wins in feeder series.
“Drivers are definitely rushed to F1 and do a lot of their schooling in F1 instead of the smaller categories which is where they should do the learning. They also arrive in F1 at a much younger age and the maturity and risk assessment is not the same.”
The Canadian driver is also critical of overly aggressive defending on track, like moving under braking. “The driving we see in F1 is a product of the leniency that we see in feeding categories. It has now become the normal way of racing and F1 is showing the way.”
With two drivers in Formula 1, Canada is well represented. But behind the successful Lance Stroll and Nicholas Latifi there is a huge void. In the European feeder series there is not a single Canadian driver and across the pond there are only a handful of them active in single-seaters, most notably Devlin DeFrancesco (Indy Lights) and Mac Clark (F4 US).
Villeneuve doesn’t see that changing anytime soon. “To be honest, the main problem is there are no feeding categories in Canada. Drivers have to go to the United States which makes it uninteresting for potential Canadian sponsors. The road to NASCAR is better paved with Canadian NASCAR.”
FEED Racing will start a new season in May 2022. They are already taking on drivers and again the big prize is a fully-funded season in a European Formula 4 championship for the 2023 season.
Header photo credit: Thibault Larue