Jacques Villeneuve believes Lewis Hamilton stepped up his game this season only when he realized how serious a threat Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel would be.
The 1997 world champion contends that Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas was not perceived by Hamilton as a rival on the level of Nico Rosberg, a factor which likely led the Briton to believe he would enjoy a year of clear sailing.
"Lewis is really, really good," said Villeneuve.
"He's only ever been in the best team with the best car, or close to it, like every great champion, which is fine.
"If he can be the whole season like he's been since the summer break, great, but he hasn't done a full season like that. He wasn't there.
"I think he fell asleep with Bottas, and when he realised that Bottas wasn't the one he had to fight, it was actually Vettel, that's when he woke up.
"He spent years with Nico, and it was always tough with Nico. Then when Bottas arrived he was laughing – 'Phew, finally I'll have an easy championship.'
"After a while he realised, 'Crap, Ferrari is there and Vettel is there.' And Vettel is not one to give up."
Villeneuve also questioned Hamilton's future in F1, uncertain if the four-time world champion has the true motivation and drive to target Michael Schumacher's record of seven world titles.
"What is his real goal?" asks the Canadian in an interview with France's L'Equipe.
"If he really loves the sport, he'll stay to beat the records. He has the means and the talent.
"But on the other hand, if he's just using F1 to build his image, as many believe, he'll just leave the paddock and head straight to Hollywood.
"When you're a world champion, you don't easily leave F1 behind. One suffers rather than one chooses. You find yourself a bit like a rejected lover who tries to console himself.
"That's when you need to have the right support around you."