A ‘definitive changing of the guard’ has taken place at Mercedes, with George Russell superseding Lewis Hamilton, according to ex-Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.
Russell joined the Silver Arrows at the beginning of the season, replacing Valtteri Bottas after spending three seasons at the back of the grid with Williams. His early performances have been impressive, seeing him finish in the top five at all five of the opening rounds of the season despite Mercedes’ new W13 car toiling in the midfield and suffering from intense bouncing at high speeds.
Mercedes are unable to challenge for race victories or compete with frontrunners Ferrari and Red Bull as things stand, which has left both Russell and Hamilton frustrated. The 24-year-old, though, sits fourth in the drivers’ championship, two places and 23 points ahead of his illustrious team-mate.
Fortunate safety car timing has benefitted Russell on a number of occasions, helping him to finish ahead of Hamilton at the races in Melbourne and Miami, but 1997 champion Villeneuve believes the both men’s results demonstrate that Russell is supplanting Hamilton in the team.
‘I think we have seen the definitive changing of the guard at Mercedes,’ Villeneuve wrote in his column for formule1.nl. ‘Russell is riding the wave, Hamilton is trying not to drown. After many years of winning without competition, it is hard to wake up and realise it is not that simple.’
‘He now has to drive like he did in his first two years in Formula 1, something Russell is doing now. In the [Miami] race, Russell made the decision – let me stay out, maybe there will be a safety car, and it paid off.’
‘Lewis’ championship luck seems to have disappeared, he doesn’t have the momentum and it’s not falling his way,’ the Canadian added. ‘It will be a tough fight, but Lewis is a racer and a champion.
‘He knows what needs to be done and we will see if he still has the energy to do it. But I think missing out on the world title last year is a heavy burden for him to carry all winter. He was bitter and feels he was robbed. But from the way Max [Verstappen] is driving, you can see he didn’t steal the title at all and is a deserved champion.”
The sixth round of the 2022 F1 season will take place at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona during the weekend of 22-24 May.
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