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EXCLUSIVE: Mercedes pushing Russell, NOT Hamilton insists F1 champion

EXCLUSIVE: Mercedes pushing Russell, NOT Hamilton insists F1 champion

EXCLUSIVE: Mercedes pushing Russell, NOT Hamilton insists F1 champion

EXCLUSIVE: Mercedes pushing Russell, NOT Hamilton insists F1 champion

Despite Formula 1's 2025 driver market turmoil overshadowing this year, there's still plenty to be excited for in the 2024 season, according to 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.

Speaking exclusively with GPFans ahead of pre-season testing, the 11-time race winner detailed the plot lines for the upcoming year.

According to Villeneuve, Lewis Hamilton's 2025 switch to Ferrari leaves both teams in flux - with George Russell, Carlos Sainz, and Charles Leclerc needing to prove themselves.

READ MORE: Hamilton issues verdict on Mercedes 'leader' debate

Is Russell as good as Hamilton?

Lewis Hamilton will not be the focus of Mercedes in 2024 says the 1997 F1 champion

"I'm expecting something very exciting," says Villeneuve when asked about 2024, "But partly with all the social aspects within the teams.

"Inside Mercedes, why would the team push for Lewis?

"And why would George not be even more aggressive than before? Because he now has to settle his spot as the leader of Mercedes, which will be exciting."

READ MORE: F1 team-mate battles: Hamilton pressure is on at Mercedes as rivals clash

What will happen to Sainz in 2025?

Carlos Sainz faces an uncertain future believes Villeneuve

"Sainz... What game will he play? His career is on the line right now.

"This [Hamilton signing] was announced before he had time to talk with other teams properly, so his value's gone down.

"His potential for getting into a good team in a strong position is also in jeopardy now, so that will be crazy to see.

"And Leclerc needs to show Ferrari that he's the one, not Lewis.

"This will all happen during this season, so that will be very exciting to see."

READ MORE: F1 boss insists Horner verdict leaves ‘questions’ and calls for NEW investigation

Who is replacing Hamilton at Mercedes?

There's no denying that the 2024 season has thrilling stories to follow at Brackley and Maranello.

Yet, there is a fellow F1 world champion Villeneuve is also keeping an eye on - Fernando Alonso.

"Then there's Alonso. Alonso wants that Mercedes seat," believes the French-Canadian racer.

When asked if Max Verstappen would let Alonso join him at Red Bull, Villeneuve expressed his doubts.

Villeneuve believes Fernando Alonso is more likely to head to Mercedes than Red Bull for 2025

"He probably would, but why would Alonso go into the Verstappen team?

"It's much better to go into a team like Mercedes that doesn't have a full-on leader yet — one that is not settled in stone.

"He's driving a Mercedes engine already for another year at least.

"So does that mean we will see a very nice Alonso like last year towards his teammate and play the game?

"Or will he just think 'Alonso' like he's done in the past? So that will be interesting to see as well."

READ MORE: Verstappen blasts 'everything is s**' on F1 return

George Russell will be the focus of Mercedes' 2024 attentions claims Villeneuve

With Drive to Survive's sixth season releasing on Netflix in the same week as this exclusive interview, it seems fitting that Villeneuve's comments show how much drama happens in the sport without needing to have wheel-to-wheel action.

"They're not racing; it's not really track action," he says. "It's stuff that happens even before getting to the race."

"Then it gets even bigger inside the race. But it starts in the paddock. It starts in testing.

"That will be fun."

READ MORE: Brundle reveals Red Bull 'challenges' amid Horner investigation

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