Jacques Villeneuve believes Lewis Hamilton has gone silent since the 2021 season deciding Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Canadian suggesting a rift between the Mercedes driver and his boss Toto Wolff is at the bottom of it all.
There has been no word from Hamilton since that night last December in the wake of his defeat to Max Verstappen. Prompting speculation he is so despondent he might quit F1 sooner than later, with Wolff fueling the debate with his well-calculated soundbites amid the deafening silence from his star driver.
1997 F1 World Champion, Villeneuve has added his theories of Hamilton’s deafening silence to growing speculation regarding the seven-time F1 World Champion’s future in the sport.
On Sky Italia, and quoted by multiple sources including Gazzetta, Villeneuve said: “I see Hamilton’s silence as a way of him deliberately putting some distance between himself and Wolff. After all, you can lose with style, whereas Toto’s antics were like that of a sore loser playing Monopoly, the moment he is down he flips the board into the air.”
Wolff’s antics during and after that frantic and controversial night at Yas Marina, and the week that followed, went viral. A protest was withdrawn at the last minute. Both Wolff and Hamilton failed to attend the FIA Awards the week after the final.
For Lewis, it was like having a diamond in his hands when suddenly it’s snatched away
During the race’s final and decisive laps, Wolff was heard over the radio directly blasting FIA Race director Michael Masi. which Villeneuve believes did the Mercedes boss no favours: “In my opinion, Wolff’s image suffered a great deal of damage. Hamilton is sensitive to that because he is thinking about his future in America, maybe even in Hollywood.”
Villeneuve went on to defend Masi: “He worked under pressure with the two team principals, in particular Wolff, who in the last five races kept screaming in Masi’s ears who did almost everything properly after that Safety-Car.
“The only drawback is that he could have sorted everything a lap earlier, but it was right to restart the race. If anything, now we need more precise rules and perhaps permanent commissioners. The alternative is to allow drivers punch each other after incidents, as happens in America.”
Villeneuve went on to describe where Hamilton’s headspace might be after the toughest season he experienced, with Max Verstappen his most formidable adversary; while Mercedes won their eighth championship in a row, their star driver was denied an eighth F1 drivers’ title on the last lap of an epic 22-race-season.
Asked if Hamilton would hang around F1 beyond the end of 2022 when his contract runs out, or even sooner, Villeneuve replied: “It depends on the car that Mercedes provide Hamilton, whether he can win easily with it or not.
“Lewis is also a bit more fatigued after this, he has had easy seasons after [Nico] Rosberg’s departure. He really won’t want to have another season like last year when perhaps he thought he would easily bring in the record eighth title, but that didn’t happen.
“That night, [in Abu Dhabi] for Lewis it was like having a diamond in his grasp when suddenly it’s snatched away from him. The manner in which he lost, hurt much more than if Verstappen led the whole race with ease,” reckoned Villeneuve, winner of 11 Grands Prix in the 163 starts he made in the top flight.