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Villeneuve questions Hamilton's return: Being beaten by Verstappen must have hurt him

Given the controversial ending to the 2021 World Championship, Jacques Villeneuve is curious to see how Lewis Hamilton approaches the new F1 season.

Jacques Villeneuve has questioned how Lewis Hamilton will mentally approach the 2022 F1 season after losing the World Championship to Max Verstappen in controversial circumstances. Hamilton had looked to be on course to win a record eighth title at the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, before the dramatic events of the final laps enabled Verstappen to overtake him on the last lap, meaning that the Dutchman took the victory as well as the championship. Following the much-discussed events - which are to be the subject of an FIA investigation - Hamilton maintained radio silence, which he did not break until 5 February when he shared a post on Instagram . Despite speculation about whether or not he would return in 2022, a recent update from Mercedes seemed to quash any doubts about this , with Hamilton being named on the schedule for the team's upcoming car launch.

How will Hamilton's attitude to 2022 be affected?

Whilst the questions over the Briton's future might have been put to rest, Villeneuve remains curious to see how Hamilton will psychologically handle his comeback. "Lewis was beaten by Max and that must have hurt him," Villeneuve told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "Verstappen never gave up and always performed at the top of his game. Hamilton knows that. The psychological blow of having your championship taken away from you is tough, too. "So who knows how Hamilton will return. Is he tired of it or is he even more determined?" In terms of the battle between Mercedes and Red Bull, Villeneuve believes that the fight will resume in 2022, despite the added uncertainty of new technical regulations coming into effect. "The strongest strength Mercedes have is the engine," the 1997 World Champion said. "It was also stronger than the Honda engine last year, and the new rules don't really change anything in that area. Therefore they keep the advantage on that part. "In addition, Lewis always knows how to adapt very quickly to new rules. What is certain is that under these circumstances, Adrian Newey [Red Bull's Chief Technical Officer] is the best, and so I expect a fight with Red Bull. "

Will Russell match up to Hamilton?

Another challenge potentially facing Hamilton this year is the arrival of a new teammate, with George Russell replacing Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes. Russell has impressed many with his performances during his three years with Williams, and also nearly won when he substituted for an unwell Hamilton with the Silver Arrows at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix. However, Villeneuve believes that the verdict is still out on the young Briton. "We don't know yet the real value of Russell," he explained. "It is true that he was a good replacement for Lewis in Bahrain, and that it was easy for him to leave a good impression at Williams. Still, it remains a question mark of what he can do now, at a big team where he will start to feel the pressure and have Hamilton as a teammate. "Talent Russell certainly has, but is [it] that of a champion or like Bottas, who is capable of just doing some good races [occasionally]?"

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