Jacques Villeneuve says Lewis Hamilton is now forced to take big risks to compete with arch-rival Max Verstappen, a situation unfamiliar to the seven-time world champion.
Although he started from pole, Hamilton lost out to Verstappen as soon as the first corner where the Red Bull driver muscled his way past the Briton.
Villeneuve believes the Mercedes driver should have conceded the corner rather than resisted his opponent, a defiance that put him Hamilton on the kerbs and damaged his car’s front wing which in turn impacted the W12’s pace for the remainder of the afternoon.
“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.
But the 1997 F1 world champion says Hamilton simply took too much risk later in the race when he attempted to lap George Russell’s Williams and slid off the track at Tosa, an error that dropped him to ninth place and seemingly out of contention for a podium finish.
However, Hamilton’s mistake and the lengthy time it took to extract himself from the gravel were mitigated by a red flag triggered shortly later by the crash between his teammate Valtteri Bottas and Russell, and which eventually allowed him to unlap himself and charge to P2.
“Lewis risked too much on the overtake,” contended 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.
“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 believes Hamilton’s plight and Verstappen’s challenge are not unlike the Canadian’s confrontations by in the day with F1’s then dominant driver, Michael Schumacher.
“I was the young challenger Schumacher had to fight against like Hamilton is now,” said Villeneuve. “Michael couldn’t cope with that.”
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