Jacques Villeneuve believes it’s time for Mercedes to let Valtteri Bottas go and replace him with Lance Stroll rather than George Russell, the 1997 Formula 1 World Champion weighing in on the current state of play in the top flight.
Bottas endured a horrid 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix, make that 100 metres of the race at Hungaroring on Sunday, ten-pin bowling a trio of front-running rivals out of the race, after a rookie mistake in Turn 1 of lap one. As did Stroll, in his wake, on the day.
Kickstarting an unexpected (and perhaps unlikely) Silly Season option, Villeneuve told Libero Quotidiano: “For me [Bottas] could move to Aston Martin, replacing Lance Stroll, who would go to Mercedes. That would be a dream for Lawrence Stroll, who is very close to Toto Wolff, to see his son win championships.
“And Toto needs a place for Valtteri. Hamilton certainly doesn’t want Russell as a teammate. For him someone like Bottas who does not trouble him is ideal,” he explained.
Villeneuve also had good things to say about Max Verstappen who was a victim of Bottas’ waywardness in Hungary, “He is in very good shape, Red Bull is geared towards him and he drives it supremly. Whether he wins the championship or not, it’s the right year and he’s matured a lot.
“They fight against a Mercedes in a great crisis, dry of stimuli for the fight and searching for the penny that will make the difference, which they and Red Bull were used to. The same goes for Hamilton: last year he fought with Bottas which was easy but today, against Verstappen, he has to pull out all the stops to stay ahead.”
As for Ferrari, Villeneuve said: “They made a big mess in the past, ending up betting everything on 2022 and nothing on this year. First, they wanted to be a totally Italian team, then they changed their minds. The best people have been sent away and some of them now work at Mercedes.
“The price they pay on the track is the result of bad choices dating back five years ago. There was a step forward with the engine and the potential was visible, but realising was and will not be easy.”
Villeneuve points to an inexperienced driver pairing as another problem for the Italian team who have a history of luring World Champions to Maranello. This year they opted to gamble on two drivers with only two wins between them, Charles Leclerc a double-winner and Carlos Sainz still searching for his first.
“In search of a winning direction, you have to have the strongest drivers. Red Bull took advantage of Verstappen and in his hands today the car is an arrow. No one else will be so comfortable,” ventured Villeneuve.
At the same time the Canadian is impressed with a certain driver on the grid: “Lando Norris has destroyed [Daniel] Ricciardo. He grows and is very strong in trace trim.
“He too is a “rich father’s son” like Stroll, yet he shows an impressive hunger, unusual for drivers who have not had to work hard. But I didn’t like it in Austria when he sent Perez off the track. It was unfair. He had to give up that corner and admit the mistake.”
In closing Villeneuve shed light on his opinion on the current powerbrokers of the sport: “I admire Wolff very much. At the time I admired Flavio Briatore, similar to Toto in terms of capacity. We still need people like Flavio in F1.
“One day I would like to be what Niki Lauda was for Mercedes. Or what Helmut Marko represents today for Red Bull,” added Villeneuve, suggesting his expertise will return to the paddock one day, perhaps after his current adventure in the current Nascar Whelen Euro Serie.