Jacques Villeneuve pleasantly surprised at how his former Williams F1 team performed in 2014, especially Bottas

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Hard as it may seem to believe, it’s been nearly two decades since Jacques Villeneuve won the Formula Championship for Williams in 1997.

Villeneuve was critical of his former team in 2013, telling Portuguese magazine Revista Warmup that Williams’ hiring of Pastor Maldonado and Valtteri Bottas, “When a team is reduced to hiring pay-drivers, it’s over.”

But the way Williams-Mercedes performed in 2014, particularly with Bottas behind the wheel and the team managed by co-owner Toto Wolff, Villeneuve is much more bullish on the team’s future, according to a a story on PaddockTalk.com.

Bottas finished fourth in Formula One in the 2014 season and teammate Felipe Massa finished seventh, while Williams finished third in the constructor’s championship. Those strong finishes prompted Villeneuve to do a complete 180-degree turn in his opinion of both Bottas as a driver and Williams as an organization from 2013 to 2014

“Bottas is a young driver, not really a pay-driver,” Villeneuve said recently to Revista Warmup. “Even with Felipe Massa they got some money from Brazil. “But he is also a professional driver with a past, a career, and they (Williams) knew well how to use the money.”

Wolff has already called Williams perhaps the “most dangerous rival” to the overall Mercedes program in 2015, a comment that Villeneuve agrees with.

“Williams does not have a big budget,” said Villeneuve, “yet they managed to turn the tide. But it is not completed yet.

“(2014) was the first season that they went well, so we will have to see if it continues the same way.”

Villeneuve, now 43, won seven races for Williams in the 1997 championship season. He admitted he did not expect his old team to be good “but not that good.”

And when they finished as high as they did, Villeneuve admitted his pleasant surprise at them doing so.

“I expected them to be better (in 2014 than 2013), but they exceeded expectations,” Villeneuve said.

As for Wolff, he admits there’s strong interest in the 25-year-old Bottas, a native of Finland, from other teams.

Among the most mentioned scenarios is Bottas as a potential teammate at Ferrari with Fernando Alonso if a vacancy were to occur in the near future.

“They (Ferrari) do not have a lot of options when the contract of (Kimi) Raikkonen expires,” Wolff told Italy’s La Gazzetta dello Sport. “From my side, there are certain conditions in the event that his (Bottas’) future sits outside of Mercedes.”

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