1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has shared his thoughts on Lewis Hamilton’s alleged approach to Red Bull earlier this year.
In the lead-up to the season finale in Abu Dhabi, a storm in a teacup was created when Christian Horner revealed that a member of Hamilton’s camp had purportedly approached him to sound out the possibility of a switch to Red Bull.
With a Red Bull spokesperson revealing that the conversation had been with Hamilton’s father Anthony, both Lewis and Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff quickly moved to shut down the rumours by dismissing them as unrelated to a cockpit change.
Jacques Villeneuve: If noise comes out, you have to negate it
Hamilton denied the story in Abu Dhabi, saying he believed Horner was “just stirring things” and that he had no knowledge of an approach from his camp. The seven-time World Champion also revealed that he had received a text on an old phone in which he uncovered a message from Horner suggesting they should have a catch-up.
Wolff was similarly dismissive of the story when he spoke to select media – including PlanetF1.com – during the Abu Dhabi weekend.
“I just don’t know what drives the guy,” he said of Horner’s comments.
“We don’t understand his thinking to come up with these things. [It] was Christian inquiring into his availability. Lewis had an exchange with Christian – which he immediately told me about, which was not about a seat, but it was just… blah.
“I just wonder what’s going on up there.”
As for whether or not Hamilton’s camp really did reach out to Red Bull or not remains to be seen, but Jacques Villeneuve said the denial is par for the course for a driver who doesn’t want his approaches becoming public.
“It gets a lot of print!” he told PlanetF1.com in an exclusive interview.
“As a driver, you’re not allowed to talk to other teams while you’re under contract and all that. But talks always happen.
“Obviously, you cross people in the paddock or, sometimes, you’ll use someone who doesn’t work for you, but will still do the talk so you’re protected.
“But, if the noise comes out, you have to negate it. Then who’s there to check?”
Jacques Villeneuve: Toto Wolff/Christian Horner rivalry is ‘needed’
With the long-established Wolff/Horner media spat bubbling up again in Abu Dhabi, Wolff also revealed to PlanetF1.com that he “believes in enemy building and in looking at people that motivate you, annoy you, that you want to beat.”
Asked whether he reckons Wolff and Horner actually need rivalries like theirs in order to bring out the best in themselves, Villeneuve reckons it spurs both on to greater things.
“That’s the only way you can progress,” he said.
“Without the rivalry, you go backward. In the past, Mercedes were winning easily and it is costly today because it took them way too long to react to last year’s car problem.
“Why? Because they spent so many years where it didn’t matter if the car was perfect or not, they had all the horsepower behind them. That’s why [Toto’s] right, you need that rivalry.
“That’s why Red Bull is still at the top, because Max is fighting still as if it was for the championship.
“If he had given up four races ago, they would be slower next year.”
As for how Toto Wolff is faring as a leader under the most difficult circumstances in his career as he tries to lead a floundering Mercedes back to the front, Villeneuve says he’s in no doubt that Wolff can bring the team back.
“I think it was tough two years ago when they lost the championship,” he said.
“Then he lost his marbles a little bit, the whole situation, because the team was not used to not winning.
“It was just cold water. Even a lot of the mechanics of the team, they were not used to it and not all of them could actually live with that.
“But he’s recovered really well. The team has been going in the right direction. Progress has been fair this year, although not as impressive as McLaren.
“He has the character, the personality and the strength. So there’s no reason why not. Then it depends on who else is in the team, it depends also on how Lewis and George work with the engineers in pushing the team forward and focus, same as Max, or not.”