1997 Formula 1 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve believes Lewis Hamilton’s fight back this year has been the reason for George Russell’s “mindset” changing, after he shot onto the Mercedes scene in 2022.
After making the switch from Williams to Mercedes for the 2022 season, Russell was given the task of simply performing at his best and settling into the Silver Arrows, whilst Hamilton worked on development.
Of course, Mercedes’ 2022 car wasn’t good, something which in itself was a wake-up call for Hamilton as he’d become so used to a winning car at his disposal.
Russell has never known what this feels like, with him suiting the W14 better than Hamilton as a result.
For the ex-Williams driver, the W14 at the time was the best F1 car that Russell had been behind the wheel of, whereas for Hamilton it was one of the worst because of the stunning cars Mercedes had given him over the years.
The 25-year-old famously went onto finish ahead of Hamilton in the 2022 Drivers’ Championship, something only two other team-mates of the 38-year-old’s had ever achieved.
This came as a shock for many; however, Hamilton was clearly far from his best last year as he was still getting over 2021 and adjusting to not having a consistently competitive package.
In 2023, Hamilton responded instantly and was the clear leader in Mercedes, as he finished ahead of Russell in 15 of the 22 completed races (would’ve been 16 if he hadn’t been disqualified at the United States Grand Prix).
The seven-time World Champion, in Villeneuve’s eyes, understood that he had to work just as hard as he did in the opening years of his F1 career, something he arguably didn’t have to do during Mercedes’ dominant era.
This made life extremely more challenging for Russell, who the 1997 World Champion believes entered 2023 thinking that he was “one of the winners” after beating Hamilton in 2022.
Whilst Russell and Hamilton drew 11-11 in qualifying, the King’s Lynn-born driver has been weaker than his teammate on a Sunday, giving him a definite wake-up call ahead of 2024.
“Last year, he just came in as a rookie in the team. The new boy coming from Williams. All he had to do was beat Lewis, he didn’t have to focus too much on going for the wins. So it was a lot easier for him,” Villeneuve said of Russell to Planet F1.
“Lewis had to react to having lost a championship the year before and, suddenly, not being in the car that can win easily. I think that got to him, it took him time to react. And that made life easy for George.
“This year, it’s been a little bit the opposite, because Lewis came back realising that he has to work like he used to work at the beginning of his career. And that’s changed the balance a bit. George came into the scene thinking, ‘OK, now I’m ahead of Lewis, I can fight, I’m one of the winners. That’s changed his mindset as well.”