Jacques Villeneuve weighed in on the situation at Mercedes after the Miami Grand Prix, claiming Lewis Hamilton is struggling not to drown as George Russell continues to star.
As Max Verstappen won, Russell finished in Miami fifth having started 11th, while Hamilton finished behind him in sixth from where he started, the seven-time Formula 1 World Champion being a bit unlucky with the Safety Car timing.
But Villeneuve – known for never mincing his words – believes that is a case of changing guard at Mercedes.
In his column for formule1.nl, the Canadian said: “I think we have seen the final changing of the guard at Mercedes.
“George Russell is riding the wave, Lewis Hamilton is trying not to drown,” he claimed. “After many years of winning without competition, it’s hard to wake up and realise it’s not that easy.
“He now has to drive like he did in his first two years in Formula 1, which is what Russell is doing now. In the race Russell took the decision: leave me out, maybe a safety car will come – and it paid off.
“Lewis’ champion’s luck seems to have left him,” Villeneuve went on. “He doesn’t have the momentum and nothing’s going his way.
“It’s going to be a tough fight, but Lewis is a racer and a champion. He knows what needs to be done and we’ll see if he still has the energy to do it. But I think missing the world title last year is a heavy burden for him that he carried with him all winter.
“He was bitter and feels that he was robbed. But you can see from the way Max drives that he didn’t steal the title at all and is a deserved champion,” the 1997 F1 Champion added.
Verstappen showing he deserved the Title in 2021
Villeneuve was full of praise for the 2021 World Champion who he believes is driving faultlessly this year, having been released from the pressure of winning his first Title in 2021, a Title – Villeneuve insists – the Verstappen deserves.
“Max has been impressive from the start of the season,” Villeneuve said. “He is driving like he drove last year.
“Normally you might be a bit tired after a championship year, but you can see that nothing has changed. In fact, he’s just got stronger. He’s been released from that championship pressure – he’s shown that he can win a title.
“In the last two races, Max has certainly shown that he deserved the title,” the 51-year-old believes. “A car can always break down, but apart from that, he’s always competing for the win.
“He drives almost flawlessly, and when he makes an error, he corrects it. He drives at the peak of his abilities, on the edge. He makes the best of what he can control.
“There has not been a single race in which he’s given less than the best – we saw that again in Miami,” the 11-time race winner stressed.
Number One’s at Red Bull and Ferrari assigned naturally
The way things have gone this year, Villeneuve thinks that the driver order at Red Bull and Ferrari has been assigned by the competitive form of their drivers, as Verstappen and Charles Leclerc – driving at a different level than Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz respectively – have naturally claimed the number one status in the team.
After the result at Miami, Villeneuve wrote: “In any case, this result is good for the championship. We have two teams up front which are fighting it out and are very close to each other.
“They each have a leader who is not determined by the team but simply on the track,” he pointed out. “Verstappen and Leclerc have become number 1 in a natural way.
“Red Bull and Ferrari will make a decision about that at some point, but as a whole, both teams are quite balanced.
“Carlos Sainz and Sergio Pérez – let’s call them the sidekicks – can win races. But they are not yet at the level of the respective number 1s,” Villeneuve concluded.