Whilst Max Verstappen is running away with the Formula One honours for 2023 and smashing a number of long held records along the way, the battle amongst the rest of the teams and drivers this year has been fascinating.
Oscar Piastri is dispelling the ‘myth’ that it takes a rookie driver three years to get up to speed – a theory often advanced by AlPha Tauri’s outgoing boss Franz Tost.
Hamilton reasserts himself over Russell
The young McLaren driver with the exception of Bahrain has been just over a tenth slower in qualifying than his team mate who is universally acclaimed as an F1 champion in the waiting.
Fernando Alonso is proving he is still one of the very best drivers in the sport and his results have single handedly dragged Aston Martin to the head of the midfield teams.
Fernando has claimed six podiums this year which is more than both Mercedes’ drivers combined and were he to have a more competitive team mate, the Silverstone based team would be a clear second in the constructors’ championship.
Meanwhile Lewis Hamilton is proving he has not lost his powers following the disappointing end to the 2021 season. During 2022 it appeared the British driver’s career may be coming to a close as he was eclipsed by new team mate George Russell.
George “unhappy with his form”
Russel claimed Mercedes only victory of the season last year and claimed more podiums and 35 extra points over and above Hamilton’s tally last year, eclipsing the seven times world champion as a team mate for only the third time in his career.
Yet this season the lad from Kings Lynn is a solid second best to Hamilton with Lewis having claimed four of the team’s five podium slots so far and currently sits 49 points ahead of his team mate.
Russell appears to have lost his edge somewhat this season, although a mechanical issue cost him big haul of points in Australia meanwhile Hamilton has yet to have a race ending issue with his W14 car.
George explained this weekend in Zandvoort that he was unhappy with his form prior to the summer break stating, “It’s been a season of two halves. The first six races were really strong. The last six races, not so much.”
Russell blames himself for ‘missed opportunities’
That said, its not a lack of intensity that has seen Russell slip behind Hamilton in the performance stakes.
“I’ve a few ideas why that is, a lot of missed opportunities this season, for various reasons,” explains Russell.
“Some from mistakes of my own, some like the failure in Australia cost me a lot of points. But if you’re not fighting for the P1 in the drivers’ championship, you just want to maximise the constructors’ and, so far, we’re doing that. It’s needed, this break, for everybody in the sport – it has been a pretty intense start to the season.”
However, the Mercedes’ team boss is critical of his young driver’s mental approach claiming this has affected his ability to deliver on a consistent basis.
Toto critical of his driver’s mental approach
“When you and I are having a bad day, nobody knows. When a driver is having a bad day then he’s probably a tenth off and that makes all the difference in qualifying,” said Wolff following Russell’s excellent drive to a P3 start for the Dutch Grand Prix.
“All drivers have days that are not so good and we’ve seen ups and downs with George, but the quality of driver that he is, I’ve never doubted for a minute. Today he was able to shine with the car on P3, had a drama-free qualifying with no traffic,” Toto added.
Clearly George Russell has experienced a level of self doubt this season having watched Hamilton grind out results while his own form has been at times indifferent. And when a team mate is beating you week in and out, F1 drivers can often begin to believe there is a conspiracy behind the difference between the two cars.
“I’m trying to really bang into his head that he hasn’t lost his form and that it’s just a myth that he’s making up. You don’t unlearn to drive… you have ups and downs like all of us have, racing drivers too, but every weekend when things have gone against him it was pretty clear why that was – and it wasn’t the driving,” asserted Wolff.
“He’s very technical” says Mercedes boss
Yet Russell’s future is not in doubt with the eight time world championship winning F1 team and his contribution to improving the car’s performance is something trackside engineering performance director Andrew Sholvlin claims is exceptional.
“He’s very technical. He adapts well to different conditions. All good drivers get better over time, they’re focused on looking for every opportunity to improve… He’s super focused and no doubt that he’ll be part of much success for the team in the future,” Shovlin revealed.
George Russell was there to pick up the pieces as Lewis Hamilton had a poor qualifying session for the Dutch Grand Prix and will start the race on Sunday in P13. The seven times world champion made an error during his final runs in Q2 by attempting his quickest lap too early.
Bernie Collins who until this year was a senior performance analyst for Aston Martin revealed to Sky F1.
Hamilton fails in Zanndvoort
“I was watching that Hamilton lap, he was pushing one lap too early,” said Collins. “So he was pushing the lap before the chequered flag.
“Because he crossed the line for the last one, that was his lap done, the energy was done, the tyres were done and he was backing off the whole way through that lap as everyone else was pushing by him.”
Hamilton was blocked by Yuri Tsunoda who received a three place grid drop form the stewards for his transgression, yet the British driver doesn’t believe it cost him a shot within the top ten shootout.
“It didn’t make any difference,” Hamilton revealed.
Hamilton claims Mercedes car “just slow”
“A few of the others got in the way on the previous laps. Tsunoda was in the way a little bit, but it didn’t lose me time. I was just slow today.”
Mercedes have on a number of occasions this year revealed the overnight work back at base in the simulator has revolutionised their poor Friday performances for qualifying on Saturday. Yet this weekend it was not the case as far as Hamilton was concerned.
“Honestly, the car didn’t feel too great after P2 [on Friday],” Hamilton explained.
“It felt great in P1 and I’ve just not had that feeling ever since, so not really sure what it is.
“It’s just… the car has been difficult. I’ll try and turn the negative from today to a positive tomorrow. I’m too far from enough for a podium probably.”
— Formula 1 (@F1) August 26, 2023