Jacques Villeneuve says sometimes champions can just decide they have had enough in the wake of Lewis Hamilton’s poor start to the season.
The seven-time former World Champion’s off-season before the 2022 campaign was far from ideal. In the wake of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix that saw Max Verstappen crowned champion for the first time instead of Hamilton earning a record-breaking eighth, the Mercedes driver disappeared from social media.
The 37-year-old explained his absence as a need to “unplug”, but when Toto Wolff said both he and Hamilton felt disillusioned by the sport rumours began to circulate we may have seen the last of Hamilton on the track.
Hamilton eventually broke his silence to confirm he would be returning but since then, he may be starting to regret his decision to do so.
His season so far has been one of ups and downs. A third-place finish in Bahrain was followed by P10 in Saudi Arabia. Next was a fourth-place finish in Australia but both in Melbourne and Bahrain, Hamilton’s high position was a result of Red Bull’s reliability issues rather than Mercedes’ speed.
At Imola, Hamilton was made to endure a weekend to forget, qualifying poorly and struggling to overtake Pierre Gasly which resulted in a 13th-place finish – only the second time he has crossed the line outside of the points since 2013.
Nobody can be sure of the mindset Hamilton is in but 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve has suggested the Mercedes driver may have had enough.
Wolff wants to 'protect' Hamilton after Imola 'low'
Toto Wolff is making sure Lewis Hamilton stays in high spirits after Imola.
“Will Hamilton still be there in two, three years?” the Canadian wrote in his column for Formule1.nl. “Will he even reach the end of this season?
“You can’t see into someone’s head. You can be down and depressed or you can be unable to deal with no longer winning.
“Then maybe it’s time to decide life is better without racing. We’ve been surprised in the past – it’s happened that champions have sometimes just had enough.”
Villeneuve also suggested having a “megastar” in the team such as Hamilton could prove to be a headache for Mercedes.
“At Mercedes, they now in any event need to learn how to lose,” he wrote. “For years, they drove everyone into the ground. If someone got closer, they just opened the throttle.
“This year, they don’t have that advantage anymore. George Russell is doing a good job in the role of underdog. He learned this at Williams, while Hamilton has always had something to fight for.
“A few columns ago, I was already wondering how they will handle this within the team. At Imola, we already saw Toto Wolff has difficulty controlling himself. His radio message after the race spoke volumes. That wasn’t only aimed at Hamilton but the whole world. A bad result for Russell doesn’t generate criticism but for Hamilton it does.
“This is the risk of having such a megastar in your team. Hamilton wasn’t in the right rhythm from the off this weekend. He also didn’t look aggressive enough, as if he couldn’t fight. That he ended up getting lapped can happen. That’s the sum total of all the factors, plus the bad car.
“He won’t keep having such terrible weekends and he will beat Russell. But it won’t be easy being the head of the Mercedes team right now.
“Do you choose your megastar, your poster boy, the record-breaking champion with the international image who costs you a mega salary? Or do you develop the car for the promising talent? A big star like this is great if you win, it gets you a lot of exposure. But if he doesn’t win, the backlash is so much bigger. A champion doesn’t have the right to not be competitive.”