Declaring something is “wrong” inside Mercedes after Lewis Hamilton opted to jump ship to Ferrari, Jacques Villeneuve expects a spicy tussle between the Briton and George Russell in their final year together.
Hamilton made what he called “one of the hardest decisions” of his life when he made the call earlier this week to leave Mercedes at the end of the year for a new challenge at Ferrari.
The decision surprised many in the paddock as Hamilton had in the past spoken about ending his career and taking on an ambassador role.
How will Mercedes handle the confrontation?
Instead, it will be Ferrari that he ends his career racing for before reportedly taking up such a role with the Italian stable in a deal said to be worth $446m in its entirety.
But announced before the first Grand Prix of the championship, even before launches and pre-season testing, questions are being asked about how Mercedes will deal with the exit of their seven-time World Champion.
Toto Wolff has made it clear he won’t be frozen out, at least not from a sporting perspective, although on the development side, “this is something which we need to look at”, he told the media including PlanetF1.com.
But should Hamilton and Russell find themselves wheel-to-wheel at any given moment, as happened in Japan last year and again in Qatar, 1997 World Champion Villeneuve says that will be the intriguing battle.
Asked by Gazzetta dello Sport what will ‘entertain us’ this season, the Canadian replied: “See how Mercedes will handle the confrontation between Russell and Hamilton.
“Inside Mercedes, there is something wrong.
“Lewis no longer believes in the engineers, he no longer believes in Toto.
“The team, after all the space and freedom they gave him, didn’t expect such a farewell. It was Mercedes that created Hamilton’s image. They believed he would remain an ambassador for life.”
As for who should replace Hamilton at Mercedes, Villeneuve has just one name on his list – Fernando Alonso.
“Alonso,” he said. “Would be great.
“Also because you can’t put another young player with Russell. Not at Mercedes.
“Toto will have the same ideas as him. He’s like Briatore: he has his own drivers, first he places them around, and then if necessary he brings them into the team.”
Ferrari face a similar, although potentially more volatile situation
That, though, may not be the spiciest of the team-mate clashes as Carlos Sainz finds himself in a similar position to Hamilton. The only difference is he doesn’t have a new team lined up for 2025.
Saying “Sainz now has nothing left to lose”, Villeneuve continued: “Sainz will have no interest in playing the team’s games.
“Ferrari’s results now count for zero for him, the only thing that will count will be his results. He has to do them for his contract for 2025. Possibly trying to beat Leclerc.”
Sainz has been linked to a move to Sauber, set to become Audi in 2026, which is said to be the most likely option, but he could also be on Mercedes’ shortlist.