Former Formula One champion and current BAR driver, Jacques Villeneuve, received the highest honour presented by his native Quebec province yesterday in a special ceremony at the Assemblee Nationale, the provincial legislature.
Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard formally presented the award of Officier (Officer), which had originally been bestowed on Villeneuve, of Iberville, Quebec, on April 16, 1998, the same date on which Quebec diva and international recording star Celine Dion was named an Officier. The award honours Quebecers who have distinguished themselves in their respective fields.
Yesterday's event took place in the Salle du conseil legislatif (Salon Rouge) of the legislature and noteworthy attendees included Quebec Lieutenant-Governor Lise Thibault, Assemblee Nationale Speaker Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, Opposition Leader Jean Charest and eight members of the Council of l'Ordre national du Quebec.
Villeneuve's international commitments prevented him from attending the ceremonies last year. His presence in Quebec this week for the Formula One race in Montreal enabled him to appear for the official presentation.
"I'm sorry my presence had to be delayed this long," said Villeneuve. "I am honoured to receive l'Ordre and I will wear it (a special lapel pin) proudly. Wherever I am competing in the world, it will remind me of Canada. I am not able to return here as often as I would like, but whenever I fly back to Montreal it's always a very emotional experience for me."
Villeneuve was named Canada's athlete of the year in 1997, the year he won the Formula One drivers' world championship as a member of the Williams team.
In presenting Villeneuve with his award today, Premier Bouchard cited Villeneuve's "immense talent and perseverance" in winning the world championship.