Lewis Hamilton is still ‘bitter’ about last season’s world title defeat according to former F1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve. The Canadian also claims that Hamilton is ‘trying not to drown’ in his battle with George Russell to be the top dog at Mercedes after the seven-time champ was beaten again in Miami last time out.
Russell has exceeded expectations since joining up with Hamilton at the Silver Arrows, and he showed once again in Miami that his threat to the Brit’s status is real. The youngster has now pipped his team-mate in each of the last four races, building up a commanding 23-point advantage in the Drivers’ Championship.
The former Williams man recently suggested that his experience driving a difficult car has helped him acclimatise to Mercedes, who are wrestling with porpoising issues this season. But that will come as no consolation for Hamilton, who is getting taken to the cleaners by the newbie who is 13 years his junior.
“I think we have seen the final changing of the guard at Mercedes,” Villeneuve wrote for formule1.nl. “George Russell is riding the wave, Lewis Hamilton is trying not to drown. After many years of winning without competition, it’s hard to wake up and realise it’s not that easy.
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“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, 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.”
Ominously for the rest of the grid, Verstappen has won every Grand Prix that he has managed to finish this season. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc claimed the other two as the race for the crown shapes up.
Red Bull have shown superior straight-line speed over the first five races, and Verstappen is never fearful to make audacious moves and fight for the lead. The Dutchman showed enough of that in his ferocious fight with Hamilton for last year’s Championship, and Leclerc is yet to demonstrate the same ruthless streak.
The Ferrari star may have to if he wants to be in the running come the end of the year. Red Bull’s reliability issues have left Verstappen 19 points behind Leclerc, but the gap could continue to shrink if their car shows more consistency.
Mercedes remain out of the conversation for now, and that goes for Hamilton in particular after a troubled start to 2022 both collectively and individually. It remains to be seen whether the 37-year-old will claw his way out of trouble to ‘ride the wave’ with Russell, or whether it is indeed a ‘changing of the guard’ as Villeneuve predicts.