1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve says he’s surprised to see how George Russell has struggled in his second year at Mercedes, and has some suspicions why…
Having beaten Lewis Hamilton in the intra-Mercedes battle in his first season with Brackley, Russell had a self-confessed ‘scrappy’ season with sporadic speed and consistency in a somewhat troubled sophomore year.
Hamilton emerged on top more often than not, coming home 59 points clear of his highly-rated teammate in the Drivers’ Championship – a points advantage inflated by a catastrophic error from Russell in Singapore as he crashed out of a likely podium finish.
Jacques Villeneuve: 2023 Lewis worked like he did at beginning of F1 career
Speaking in an exclusive interview with PlanetF1.com, Villeneuve spoke of his surprise at how Russell has struggled in his second season with Mercedes, but said he believes it’s down to a resurgent Hamilton applying himself differently to 2022.
“It’s surprising,” Villeneuve said.
“Last year, he just came in as a rookie in the team. The new boy coming from Williams.
“All he had to do was beat Lewis, he didn’t have to focus too much on going for the wins. So it was a lot easier for him.
“Lewis had to react to having lost a championship the year before and, suddenly, not being in the car that can win easily.
“I think that got to him, it took him time to react. And that made life easy for George.
“This year, it’s been a little bit the opposite, because Lewis came back realising that he has to work like he used to work at the beginning of his career. And that’s changed the balance a bit.
“George came into the scene thinking, ‘OK, now I’m ahead of Lewis, I can fight, I’m one of the winners. That’s changed his mindset as well.”
Villeneuve compared the situation to Daniel Ricciardo’s breakout year with Red Bull in 2014, when the Australian outperformed the reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel after four consecutive titles won by the German driver.
The Canadian driver believes the lack of pressure on the shoulders of Russell, similar to Ricciardo’s, meant they were able to race without complications – a dynamic that changes in the second season together.
“Last year, Russell’s position was the same as Daniel Ricciardo’s when he got paired with [Sebastian] Vettel [at Red Bull in 2014],” Villeneuve explained.
“All he had to do was mind his business, not care about how good the team was – just beat Vettel, whereas Vettel was trying to reinvent the wheel to go and win races, which made him go slower. That made Ricciardo look good. That’s the same thing that happened between Russell and Hamilton last year.”
But Villeneuve believes Russell has the speed to bounce back, but will need to discover more consistency.
“He’s super quick,” he said.
“He’s been ahead of Lewis as often this year, it’s just… he threw away a lot of points in Singapore. That was bad.”