Lewis Hamilton is starting to put some distance between himself and George Russell, with Jacques Villeneuve suggesting the seven-time World Champion is making the best of a tricky Mercedes.
Hamilton is currently 57 points clear of Russell in the Drivers’ Championship, with the seven-time World Champion having had the measure of his younger teammate for most of this season.
It’s something of a turnaround from last year, where Russell and Hamilton were usually quite evenly matched – Russell actually coming out on top during the first half of the season as Hamilton had some early struggles with the troublesome W13.
Jacques Villeneuve: The Mercedes is hit and miss
Mercedes are part of the group of teams fighting over the ‘best of the rest’ accolade behind Red Bull, with the Brackley-based team enjoying a 40-point lead over Aston Martin.
On any given weekend, the second-quickest team changes between Mercedes, Ferrari, Aston Martin and, recently, McLaren. 1997 F1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve reckons the W14 is a very good car, but rarely operates inside its own sweet spot.
“The Mercedes looks difficult to drive,” he told PlanetF1.com in an exclusive interview at Monza.
“So it’s hit and miss – as soon as they’re in the window, the car is marvellous but they easily get out the window. It could be temperature, fuel, it could be anything.
“You can see they can’t carry speed into the corner. So that makes it very difficult for drivers, even like Lewis, to compensate. Because the driving ends up not being natural.”
Jacques Villeneuve: George Russell struggles ‘typical’ of sophomore year
With Russell now in his second year at Mercedes, and struggling to keep pace with Hamilton on a regular basis, Villeneuve believes that the younger British driver’s struggles are typical for younger racers in their sophomore year at a big team.
Villeneuve pointed to the example of how Daniel Ricciardo showed up at Red Bull in 2014 and beat Sebastian Vettel at the first time of asking.
“Russell is having a hard time compared to last year, he had a much better season last year for some reason,” Villeneuve said.
“So I don’t know if it’s him that has changed, or Lewis that is driving better, but the balance has shifted a bit this year.
“George last year was typical… [remember] what [Daniel] Ricciardo did when he arrived in Red Bull?
“George moved from Williams to Mercedes, and Lewis was there. So compare Vettel to Ricciardo, and Lewis to George.
“Lewis wants to win races… but George wants to beat Lewis. So it’s not the same approach in setting the car up.
“Lewis didn’t want to settle for third or fourth, so you end up maybe pushing in areas on setups to try and compensate for half a second. And, oftentimes, that will make you go slower.
“That’s what happened with Vettel that first year against Ricciardo.
“So the rookie driver just minds his own business and is just happy to be the teammate and suddenly, [they’re] amazing, but, in the second year, that doesn’t work anymore.”
With Villeneuve having previously told PlanetF1.com that Hamilton’s goal of a record-breaking eighth World Championship is far from a futile goal, having signed on for another two years with Mercedes, the Canadian driver believes Hamilton will effortlessly rejoin the fight at the front once the car is underneath him.
“When Lewis is in a position, like Max is, where the car is his and it does everything he wants, he’s unbeatable,” he said.
“Same way as Max is now so that can and will happen again, I’m not worried about that!”