Lewis Hamilton warned he ‘doesn’t have the right to be uncompetitive’

Sir Lewis Hamilton sits seventh in the Drivers' Championship after his P14 finish at the 2022 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

1997 Formula 1 champion Jacques Villeneuve has suggested that Sir Lewis Hamilton may be considering walking away from Mercedes if the team’s fortunes do not improve.

Mercedes have made a dire start to the 2022 season, and Hamilton left the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix with no points as he crossed the finish line outside the top 10 for the first time since the 2013 Spanish Grand Prix 177 races ago.

Conversely, team-mate George Russell climbed up to P4 in the race having comfortably out-performed the 37-year-old all weekend, leading some to question why Hamilton is struggling so much with the W13.

READ: Russell had Bottas incident in the back of his mind last weekend

As a result, Villeneuve questions whether the Briton will want to continue in a car that it preventing him from fighting at the front due to the “porpoising” and tyre warmup issues that have plagued them since the turn of the new technical regulations.

“It’s a question that will be raised,” the Canadian said in an interview.

“In the meantime, Mercedes need to learn how to lose now. George Russell is doing a good job as underdog, but he learned this at Williams, while Hamilton always had something to fight for.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff noted that some of the disparity between his drivers was related to the fact that it is easier to run in clear air than it is to drive in traffic as Hamilton was doing when stuck behind Pierre Gasly in P14, but the Canadian observes that he didn’t see the fight he would ordinarily expect to from the 103-time race winner.

“He didn’t look aggressive enough at Imola – like he couldn’t even fight. It’s not easy being the head of the Mercedes team right now,” he explained.

Elaborating on the latter point, the 51-year-old divulged his opinion that Wolff is faced with a conundrum as to which driver he places more emphasis on going forward.

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“As Toto Wolff, do you choose your megastar, your poster boy, the record-breaking champion with the international image who costs you a mega sum of money? Or do you develop the car for the promising talent?” he pondered.

“A big star like Lewis is great if you win, but if you don’t the backlash is so much bigger. A champion doesn’t have the right to be uncompetitive.”

The Silver Arrows’ patent inability to fight at the front seems different than McLaren’s struggles in 2009.

The Woking side had made a horrendous start to the year after new technical regulations were also brought in that season, but significant upgrades were introduced to the Mercedes-powered car, and Hamilton went on to win in Hungary and Singapore that year, before retiring with a hydraulic problem at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix when he looked on for victory.

READ: Rosberg warns Mercedes: ‘It’s quite easy for Lewis to lose it’

But the sport is so much more complex than it was then, and development scope is a lot longer too.

Add in the incrementally restricted $140 million budget this season, and it appears tough to see Mercedes magically re-appearing at the front of the grid, so Villeneuve indicates there is a real possibility that the seven-time champion may call it a day.

“We’ve been surprised in the past. It has happened before that champions sometimes say they’ve just had enough,” he affirmed.

But Hamilton did not achieve the success he has by rescinding his interest during times of hardship, and he posted a defiant post on social media on Wednesday.

“Working on my masterpiece, I’ll be the one to decide when it’s finished,” he said, highlighting his desire to stay and fight together with his team to return to the top of the timesheets.