Lewis Hamilton fired team-mate warning as Max Verstappens advantage proves a concern

George Russell joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes

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Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has been sent a warning shot by former Formula One driver Jacques Villeneuve who has suggested his outgoing team-mate Valtteri Bottas “doesn’t want to help” Mercedes after being axed for George Russell. After months of speculation, it was finally announced ahead of the Belgian Grand Prix that Bottas would be signing for Alfa Romeo, making way for the 24-year-old at Mercedes.

The move came after the Finn spent the past five seasons playing second fiddle to Hamilton, with his future boss Frédéric Vasseur saying the move would offer him a fresh start and a different challenge in a new environment.

But Bottas was still contractually obliged to see out the season with Mercedes, who are currently in a fierce battle with Red Bull and Max Verstappen for the world title.

Verstappen leads the way by just eight points heading into the penultimate race at Saudi Arabia ahead of the finale next weekend in Abu Dhabi.

Yet Villeneuve believes Hamilton could struggle to receive backup from his current team-mate, suggesting Sergio Perez could be a key player in the championship fight.

“Bottas for sure helped Lewis out a lot in Hungary, but you see the difference between him and Hamilton,” Villeneuve told Gazzetta dello Sport ahead of the weekend. “We knew Perez was not at Verstappen’s level but he improved.

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“In the end, between the two of them, he [Perez] will be the one more willing to help out also because he already has a contract for next year. Valtteri aims at doing a good result for himself – he doesn’t want to help the team and you see that.”

Hamilton took pole in Jeddah as Verstappen crashed at the final corner on an incredibly fast lap that would’ve secured him pole position.

The Dutchman now starts behind both Mercedes drivers in third on the grid, and the 1997 world champion expects the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to be close.

“In Saudi Arabia, Lewis [and] Mercedes will mount the engine he used at Interlagos and I believe he will be almost unbeatable with that power unit,” Villeneuve said.

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“The Honda powertrain provides the same horsepower from the start to the end. Mercedes’ one is not only new but it presents some differences inside. It really seems like it is from another planet.”

The seven-time world champion has had quite the resurgence over the last few races, winning in Brazil and Qatar to close the gap and force the championship to go down to the wire.

Villeneuve added: “Hamilton’s recovery in the last two races has been huge, all of a sudden.

“Either they had something up their sleeve or I don’t know. It seemed to me all happening too suddenly. Impressive. Let’s see if this continues in the last two races.

“Red Bull for sure are used to this kind of pressure, Mercedes are very strong but they had an easy life for years and you can see that, because sometimes they react in an aggressive, bad way, precisely because they are not used anymore to fighting and losing. But they have the ability to win – we saw that in many races.”

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