Having been berating Sir Lewis Hamilton’s performances at the start of the 2022 season, Jacques Villeneuve is more than happy to accept that it is only fair he now gives the Briton some credit.
Hamilton qualified fourth in a wet session on Saturday in Canada, and went on to finish third in the race, earning his second podium of the year.
It was the fourth time he has out-qualified team-mate George Russell in 2022, and only the second time he had out-performed him in race trim, although some of that can be attributed to some misfortune in the opening eight races of the year.
Things finally fell his way in Montreal as his distinguished performance was rewarded with a solid result, leaving him delighted having struggled with the setup during Friday practice.
Villeneuve previously said that Hamilton was “not coping at all” with the new regulations that saw Mercedes build an uncomfortable and underperforming car, but he now gives him his dues.
“A few weeks ago I was very critical of Lewis Hamilton, so now I have to give him a compliment,” he wrote in his column for formel1.nl.
“The car was competitive and Lewis put in a very strong drive, it’s important for him that he made it to the podium.”
While Russell went for a risk on Slicks at the end of qualifying, Hamilton used his experience to determine that Inters were still very much the way to go, and such a strong performance might just be the boost Hamilton needs after such a difficult start to the year.
“On Saturday he won the qualifying duel after that strange gamble by George Russell and Hamilton got the maximum out of the race, made the right decisions and also had the speed,” added Villeneuve.
“It’s been a tough season and maybe this is the boost he needed. Maybe his bad moments are behind him now and he’s back in fighting mode.”
Max Verstappen had to withstand heavy pressure from the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz as he won the race for Red Bull, which appeared to be quicker in the twisty first sector where it is difficult to follow.
In sectors Two and Three, Sainz used his DRS advantage to generally go quicker than the Dutchman, but Villeneuve believes the Spaniard’s exit onto the all-important back straight cost him.
“The Red Bull was really very fast on the straights, I got the impression that Sainz didn’t get through the last hairpin well,” said the 1997 world champion.
“So, he was always just that bit too far behind Verstappen on the long straight.
“For the rest of the lap the Ferrari was strong, maybe stronger. But he didn’t tackle the hairpin well – the most important moment of the lap. He couldn’t get the car rotated well enough.”
Verstappen suffered two reliability failures in the opening three rounds of the season as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc won in Bahrain and Australia, but Red Bull have completely turned the championship on its head in the last six races.
The Dutchman has won two races from pole, and five having beaten polesitter Leclerc, with Perez also winning in Monaco after an abysmal strategic display from Ferrari put the Monegasque down to fourth from first.
With how quickly the tide has changed in the last six rounds, there is nothing to say that it cannot do so again in the final 13 races, especially considering Sergio Perez’s gearbox failure on Sunday.
“Verstappen has a big lead now, but he’s not there by a long way yet I keep saying it, the season is still long,” explained Villeneuve.
“We know he never weakens, he doesn’t succumb to pressure. Everything always goes right for a champion, see Hamilton in Imola last year for example.
“Verstappen is also still in that momentum from last year. Engine failure or a strategic error, these are always lurking but yesterday it was Pérez who was affected and not Verstappen.
“But it will very probably happen to Verstappen again, it’s almost inevitable.”
Verstappen leads Perez by 46 points in the Drivers’ Championship, while Red Bull are 76 points clear of Ferrari after nine races.