Mercedes AMG F1 have had the worst start to a season in the best part of a decade. Their W13 car is at best the third quickest on the grid following the most significant changes since 2014 in the FIA to car design regulations.
The Brackley team’s young pretender has delivered a P4/5/3/4 in the first races of the season, while his world champion team mate Hamilton has just over half the points of newbee Russell after 4 races.
Toto Wolff apologised to Lewis Hamilton at the chequered flag in Imola for giving him an ‘undrivable’ car, whist his new driver simultaneously delivered a P4 race result. The Merc team boss has suffered much criticism for this message, given the result of his other driver. Ex World champions and other pundits have suggested this was merely to keep Lewis’ spirits up.
Yet the reality is clear for all to see. Russell is better equipped to driving a car that is not ideal. Hamilton has driven the Rolls Royce of F1 Mercedes for the best part of a decade and doesn’t know how to deliver in a substandard machine.
Toto Wolff explains to F1.com, “I couldn’t be happier with the driver line-up; in that respect I think we have the two best drivers, maybe two of the three best drivers. They deserve a car and a power unit that fights at the front rather than them being lapped. That’s not what any of them deserves.”
Well the best of their drivers is clearly Russell at present.
Toto praises Russell in particular; “I’m very impressed with how [George has] settled in, how professionally and analytically he helps to assess the situation. The combination is one of the very few highlights I have at the moment on our journey – how well the two of them work together, with no friction; on the contrary, [they’re] very productive and positive for the team.”
Yet George Russell, P4 in the drivers’ championship, ahead of Carlos Sainz, needs no motivational speeches from his team principal.
By contrast Lewis Hamilton is clearly in need of some Toto love. “Well, you know in a way I have to protect him here. It’s not his low. It’s the low of the car performance,” Wolff continued. “We know that he is a seven-time world champion. He caught up last year, him and us the team caught up and nearly fought for the championship.”
It kind of feels that Toto goes on to be slightly patronising to Lewis or even ‘protested too much’ on his behalf as he states. “The guy is the best driver in the world, and he’s just not having a machine and equipment underneath him to be able to execute… In a way I think it’s irrelevant if you come in eighth or 12th or 15th, it doesn’t matter; it’s all bad. But the real stars recover.”
But George is P3-P5 in the same car Toto???
The Merc team boss heaps even more pressure on Hamilton as he adds; “There are none out there of the really great ones that come into my mind that didn’t have certain moments in their career where things didn’t run properly, and that is the case now with him since a long time.
“He’s going to help the team to sort things out, we are sticking together through good and bad times and today [at Imola] was certainly a very bad day.”
But what if it doesn’t improve at Mercedes AMG F1 for Lewis?
If ever there’s an epitaph being written inadvertently right now, Wolff is contributing to its content.
‘Old master, deposed by young gun’?