The increased competition from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen is forcing reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton into taking “big risks” according to Jacques Villeneuve, which is resulting in more mistakes for the Briton.
Although Hamilton started in pole position for Sunday’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, he lost out to a fast starting Verstappen, who jumped from third place to the lead before Turn 1. Hamilton tried to stay ahead, but was on the outside and ended up bouncing across the kerbs, damaging his front wing, which Mercedes believe cost him six-tenths per lap.
That was Hamilton’s first mistake, according to 1997 F1 champion Villeneuve: “At the start Lewis should have pulled back against Max as early as the first corner because he was on the outside. But he held on and so ruined his race already in the first corner,” he told F1-Insider.
Hamilton’s second and costliest mistake came when he lapped backmarker George Russell, which forced him onto the wet part of the track. Hamilton slid off into the gravel before hitting the wall. Although he was able to reverse back onto the track, he dropped a lap down and was only saved by a red flag caused by Russell and Valtteri Bottas crashing.
“Lewis risked too much on the overtake,” added Villeneuve. “I doubt that would have happened to him like that in recent years.
“The red flag, which was triggered by his team-mate Valtteri Bottas, saved him. He was very lucky. He can’t rely on that from now on.”
These mistakes, according to the Canadian, are a result of the increased pressure of having to compete against a driver of the same calibre in a car equally as quick as the Mercedes.
“You could already see at Imola that Lewis isn’t used to taking big risks. But now he has to because – unlike in previous years – he has an opponent on a par who drives for another team.”
Villeneuve likened it to his championship-winning year when he beat Michael Schumacher to the title by just three points, although the German was then disqualified for ‘dangerous driving’ in an incident at the European GP, when he collided with Villeneuve.
“I was the young challenger Schumacher had to fight against like Hamilton is now. Michael couldn’t cope with that,” he added.