Lewis Hamilton struggles explained as ex-world champ says Russell is better

Lewis Hamilton previews Las Vegas Grand Prix

Former F1 driver Jacques Villeneuve believes he knows why Lewis Hamilton has been struggling in qualifying. The Mercedes star has not won a race since the 2021 Saudi Arabia Grand Prix, the race before he missed out on being an eight-time world champion in controversial fashion in Abu Dhabi.

The 38-year-old only finished sixth in the driver’s standings in 2022, the lowest of his career. He is currently third in the 2023 driver standings and he has been more competitive in the current campaign than the last. But the British driver’s results have been far fro the levels he became accustomed to as the Silver Arrows continue to try and find ways to compete with front-runners Red Bull.

Furthermore, while he has been able make up for it more often than not on race day, Hamilton has been struggling during qualifying sessions, which is uncharacteristic for the seven-time champion. But Villeneuve, who is in Las Vegas for the city’s inaugural F1 race on Sunday, has explained why that may be the case – suggesting teammate George Russell is “better” when it comes to setting the car up. 

“It seems to be a peaky car, with a very small window of operation and it’s very hard to set up, George seems to be better than that,” the Canadian said during a chat in the Las Vegas GP pit lane. “You have to remember, Lewis spent so many years with an easy car to drive with extra horsepower from the rest of the grid. Even if they didn’t have the right strategy, the right setup, they would still win. When you have to go back to get that last tenth, you’re not used to it anymore and you need to get the ball rolling.”

Hamilton was knocked out of the Las Vegas GP qualifying session in the second session and could only manage P11. He has since been promoted to P10 following a 10-place grid penalty after changing his engine battery.

This is the third time this season Hamilton has exited qualifying in Q2 and the disappointed driver said the car was not in syce what he was trying to achieve on the track. “Just not that great. Yesterday was feeling a little bit better and we were looking relatively competitive,” Hamilton said.

“Made some changes overnight, P3 was pretty poor, put me on the backfoot, and I was just trying to recover basically in qualifying which is never the place to do so. Just struggled with the grip. The car just wasn’t working for me. It’s definitely difficult when you can’t even get through Q2, but it is what it is.”

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Mercedes is currently one of the slowest cars in the speed traps and they have been having difficulty getting the tyres warm and working at their best at the right times. Tyre management and degradation have been challenging for each team in Las Vegas due to the cold conditions. The Silver Arrows’ problems are exacerbated due to the circuit’s long straights and slow-speed corners, similar to the track in Monza.

Commenting on the challenges Mercedes faces, team principal Toto Wolff said: “Our pace remains a mystery. Having the tires in the right window, you can see the difference. We already saw that in Free Practice Three. Very difficult to understand. Lewis didn’t have any more grip.

“We are talking about four or five degrees difference in temperature between grip and no grip. You can see that some teams, like McLaren, they are normally at the front but are out in Q1. On the other side, the Ferraris put in stunning laps. Both of them half a second ahead of everyone else.”

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