Villeneuve, Schumacher, write off Mercedes title
"For years, bad weekends could be camouflaged by their superior engine"
1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve thinks Mercedes’ world title hopes are already over in 2022.
Although only two races have passed, it is clear that Ferrari and Red Bull are significantly ahead - with other teams potentially also in front of the reigning constructors’ champions.
"Are we among the top teams in any area? I do not think so," team boss Toto Wolff admits.
It is clear that Ferrari and Red Bull-Honda are not struggling as Mercedes is with the ground effect ’porpoising’, but another major factor is the engine.
"I don’t know what kind of engine the Haas has, but I couldn’t follow it," world champion Lewis Hamilton said after Saudi Arabia.
Wolff, though, said he didn’t want to "point the finger" at Mercedes’ engine HQ.
"We operate as a team and have deficits that are far greater than just the engine," said the Austrian.
New F1 ambassador Flavio Briatore thinks Mercedes will only need "two or three" more races to bounce back and be at eye-level with the top two teams.
But 1997 title winner Villeneuve does not agree, telling the Dutch publication Formule 1 that it’s "obvious" that the German team "has fallen off the pedestal".
"For years, bad weekends could be camouflaged by their superior engine. That is no longer the case," said the French Canadian.
"It will be interesting how the team will react, because Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton are not used to this. But we can already say that competing for the title is no longer an option."
Villeneuve even thinks George Russell could maintain his Jeddah-like advantage over Hamilton this year "because of his years at Williams".
"Lewis has always had a perfect car," he said. "He never had to push because they were so much faster."
Fellow former F1 driver Ralf Schumacher agrees, telling Sky Deutschland that he sees "little hope" that Mercedes can recover to fight for the titles.
"Russell is also showing that Hamilton has a teammate at eye-level, which will be exciting to watch," said the German. "Russell is not someone who will be content with his current position of second driver.
"But the championship is very far away from them now. By the time they can compete again, Leclerc and Verstappen will be too far ahead.
"It will be interesting to see how Mercedes and the sponsors react - none of them are used to this," Schumacher added. "And with the budget cap, it will be difficult to change course."