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MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 18: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing is presented with the Pirelli Pole Position Award by Jacques Villeneuve during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 18, 2022 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Villeneuve: Verstappen should go to Audi not Mercedes

MONTREAL, QUEBEC - JUNE 18: Pole position qualifier Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing is presented with the Pirelli Pole Position Award by Jacques Villeneuve during qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Canada at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 18, Villeneuve: Verstappen should go to Audi not Mercedes in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

Jacques Villeneuve has thrown the cat among the pigeons by suggesting that Max Verstappen join Audi rather than Mercedes, as the Formula 1 Silly Season get’s sillier in the wake of the ‘Adrian Newey to leave Red Bull’ news sinks in.

One can rewind the clock to earlier this year, before the F1 car launched in early March when F1 factories were working to get their 2024 cars ready for launching and Bahrain testing.

Life was fine at Red Bull, a Camelot of harmony that appeared from the outside. Mercedes was chasing its tail with another bad car,

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But then the proverbial ‘sh!t hit the fan’ in a big way. First the Christian Horner ‘sex-texting scandal’ broke the internet and sent Red Bull into disarray. Next. On 1 February, the F1 ‘News of the Century‘ broke when Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton confirmed they would unite starting 2025.

Next. 1 May, Newey news goes viral as speculation lights up the web that the sport’s greatest designer is off the sport’s greatest team Ferrari to design cars for F1’s greatest driver Lewis and the heir Charles Leclerc.

So what next for Verstappen? With Newey leaving Red Bull, Ferrari have picked their drivers which leaves Mercedes of the current big three teams for the Dutch triple F1 World Champion to consider.

However, speaking to the media team at Crypto Casino LTD, Villeneuve has a curved ball opinion on what should transpire: “Why not Audi and rebuild them? Verstappen thinks he can win with any team so why not Audi?

“If you look at Mercedes, it’s not an easy team to go to. It’s been three years and they still haven’t fixed their issues. They’ve made their car worse year on year. When you’ve spent so many years winning easily, you forget what it takes to go and win when it’s hard. It’s hard to get the ball rolling again.

“All Mercedes have known is victory. They don’t know what not winning is,” reckons Villeneuve, backed by the fact that Mercedes have a single victory in three seasons thus far, which Russell scored at the 2022 Sao Paulo GP, Red Bulls (mainly Max) have won 43 times since then.

Villeneuve: If Verstappen goes to another team he might not find the same success

SHANGHAI, CHINA - APRIL 21: Max Verstappen of Oracle Red Bull Racing and The Netherlands celebrates finishing in first position in parc ferme during the F1 Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit on April 21, 2024 in Shanghai, China. (Photo Villeneuve: Verstappen should go to Audi not Mercedes Peter Fox/Getty Images)

“Max is always in racing mode and he seems to not get tired of that,” observes Villeneuve. “That’s a huge strength. If he goes to another team, he might not find the same success. He won’t have the same protection from Marko where a lot of the focus is on Max.

“It would be a new chapter and who knows if his father [Jos] will be allowed to be nearby as well. All these unknowns would be very interesting to see how he evolves. If he makes that step, we’ll really see what he’s made of,” ventured Villeneuve.

The 1997 F1 World Champion has little confidence in Mercedes beyond the Hamilton era: “Mercedes hasn’t made the step and the energy doesn’t seem to be friendly at the moment.

“They are a team where on the outside, they’re trying to make out that everything is going great but it looks like it’s all boiling. They’re in the process of trying to develop [Kimi] Antonelli. That’s Toto Wolff’s next goal, he wants to bring his boy into F1.”

Audi’s F1 foray in 2026 is moving ahead at full steam with German F1 veteran Nico Hulkenberg confirmed as their first driver. With Carlos Sainz is reportedly top of the list for the second seat but it could be biding his time to see how this very volatile F1 Silly Season pans out.

Villeneuve weighed in on the Sauber morphing into Audi in coming seasons: “They have a long road ahead of them because the team is nowhere. They can’t end up like Williams was a couple of years ago where they were in an abandoned state that needed a rebuild.

“We’ve seen it in the past, it doesn’t matter how much money you pump into it as Toyota experienced. That was the team with the best factory and the most amount of money and look where they ended up.

“It’s about culture and the person in charge. Is the person in charge really knowledgeable? You need the team principal and the designer and the mechanics. You can’t have politicians in there. You need people that are good at doing it,” explained Villeneuve, whose time at Williams was when they were one of the top teams in F1.

Villeneuve: Hulkenberg had a very long but average career

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As for Hulkenberg’s next chapter: “It was the only move for Hulkenberg. He’s had a very long but average career. He didn’t too bad as a number three driver but then he managed to get into Haas with a teammate that’s quite average. Now everyone’s thinking he’s amazing but he’s the same as he was before.

“He’s always been a good driver, the same level as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez and he’s manoeuvred himself very well. He was becoming aggressive against Haas but then they gave him a lifeline and he’s starting to be very political.

“He was saying things in the media and now he’s saying thanks for the ride and going to Audi, which is amazing. At Audi, he’ll finally be in a proper constructors team and he’s also German!” Villeneuve pointed out.

Audi F1 team boss Andreas Seidl has worked with Hulkenberg before (when they won the 2015 Le Mans together with Porsche) and at McLaren with Sainz. The pairing would be ideal for the new team, with plenty of experience on hand from the drivers.

Unless, of course, Audi bosses get super-serious about their F1 project and they blank-cheque a deal to lure Verstappen to the team, as Villeneuve proposes.

Big Question: If he departs Red Bull, Mercedes or Audi for Max Verstappen?