Lewis Hamilton retirement fears expressed by Formula One champion

Fears have been expressed that Lewis Hamilton may not see out the season with Mercedes following a woeful start to the campaign, with former world champion Jacques Villenueve speculating he could depart.

The seven-time world champion endured another weekend to forget at Imola, finishing only 13th and once again finding himself unable to find the speed within the car that teammate George Russell, who finished fourth, has managed to.

A rare finish outside the points for Hamilton saw Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff concede to the experienced driver after the race that the car was 'undriveable', with 'porpoising' issues and tyre degradation continuing to be issues for the defending constructor's champions. While Hamilton reaffirmed his commitment to Mercedes ahead of Sunday's race, the overall performances from the weekend have seen his position on the grid come under speculation and Villenueve fears he could quit midway through the campaign.

“Will Hamilton still be there in two, three years? Will he even reach the end of this season? You can’t see into someone’s head. You can be down and depressed or you can be unable to deal with no longer winning," he wrote in his column for Formule1.nl

“Then maybe it’s time to decide life is better without racing. We’ve been surprised in the past – it’s happened that champions have sometimes just had enough.”

Villenueve also suggested that having a star like Hamilton in the team while they're encountering regular struggles could prove to be problematic, adding: “At Mercedes, they now in any event need to learn how to lose. For years, they drove everyone into the ground. If someone got closer, they just opened the throttle.

“This year, they don’t have that advantage anymore. George Russell is doing a good job in the role of underdog. He learned this at Williams, while Hamilton has always had something to fight for. A few columns ago, I was already wondering how they will handle this within the team. At Imola, we already saw Toto Wolff has difficulty controlling himself.

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"His radio message after the race spoke volumes. That wasn’t only aimed at Hamilton but the whole world. A bad result for Russell doesn’t generate criticism but for Hamilton it does. This is the risk of having such a megastar in your team. Hamilton wasn’t in the right rhythm from the off this weekend.

"He also didn’t look aggressive enough, as if he couldn’t fight. That he ended up getting lapped can happen. That’s the sum total of all the factors, plus the bad car. He won’t keep having such terrible weekends and he will beat Russell. But it won’t be easy being the head of the Mercedes team right now.

“Do you choose your megastar, your poster boy, the record-breaking champion with the international image who costs you a mega salary? Or do you develop the car for the promising talent? A big star like this is great if you win, it gets you a lot of exposure. But if he doesn’t win, the backlash is so much bigger. A champion doesn’t have the right to not be competitive.”

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