The main weight of expectation, however, came of course from his surname. Jacques was the only son of Gilles Villeneuve, the mercurial genius of car control; go and watch his battle with Renault's René Arnoux at Dijon if you don’t know it already, as it’s probably the best bit of racing you will ever see in F1.
Villeneuve Senior could have been World Champion in 1979 if he had ignored Ferrari team orders, and no doubt more opportunites were within his grasp, but was stolen away far too young in a horrendous crash at Zolder in 1982.
Another only son of an F1 cult hero sat across from Villeneuve in the Williams garage for the 1996 season: Damon Hill, who already had four seasons under his belt and by all rights should have been crowned champion in 1994 but for Michael Schumacher using his Benetton as a battering ram.
Jacques introduced himself to the world of F1 in the best possible way, by taking pole position by almost three-tenths of a second ahead of Hill. The FW18 was easily the fastest car that season, although its closest competitor would be the F310 pair of Schumacher and Northern Irishman Eddie Irvine.
As Albert Park was finally christened by Goodyear rubber, Villeneuve streaked off into the lead. However, the race was red-flagged after just three corners, due to a “horrendous accident” that sent veteran Martin Brundle violently cartwheeling into the gravel trap but miraculously emerging unharmed and sprinting back to the pits to enter his team’s spare car – “the best possible advertisement for the constructional safety of the Jordan chassis,” Autocar said at the time.
“There was a key moment that truly showed Jacques Villeneuve to be a chip off the old block,” we continued. “On lap 34, under mounting pressure from his ever-present team-mate, the Indy 500 winner slid into the rough. He would later admit it was his own mistake, and he thought he was a gonner.
“But the front wheels told the story. As the FW18 crabbed sideways, they remained perfectly parallel without a touch of over-correction. It was a split-second that offered a fascinating insight into the talent and co-ordination of the man who oh-so-nearly drove into the record book with a win in his first GP.
“Earlier, there had been the moment when he ran round the outside of Hill’s FW18 to retake the lead after the two cars had made their single refuelling stops – just after the Englishman had squeezed in front coming out of the pits. Epic stuff!
“Apart from that on lap 34, Villeneuve never put a wheel wrong. Hill was a lucky winner, his oil-stained FW18 slipping ahead with only just over four laps to go, after Villeneuve was signalled to ease up.