Mercedes’ supposed strategic move to instruct George Russell to give up his position to Lewis Hamilton during the Japanese F1 Grand Prix raised eyebrows among Sky TV commentators and fans alike. The decision, made with just four laps to go at Suzuka, left many pondering its rationale and the impact it had on the dynamics of the race.
Certainly, the move left Russell completely defenceless to a charging Carlos Sainz Jr in his Ferrari with much fresher tyres. Understandably Russell was not happy with his team.
Controversial team order
As the race neared its climax, Mercedes issued a controversial team order, instructing George Russell to let his perceived esteemed teammate, Lewis Hamilton, pass and take the position. The decision didn’t sit well with Russell, who made his disagreement clear over the team radio.
Commentators express doubt
The Sky TV commentators were quick to dissect and question Mercedes’ strategic decision. Anthony Davidson, providing expert analysis, raised concerns about the order. He highlighted the fact that Hamilton was gradually losing ground to Charles Leclerc and noted that once past Hamilton, Russell would be significantly exposed to potential threats from behind.
Davidson shared his view, stating, “[Hamilton] is falling behind Charles Leclerc. That leaves Russell massively vulnerable. I think Russell was right…”
Ted Kravitz, another prominent commentator, joined the discourse, remarking, “Mercedes created this problem!”
Second thoughts about Mercedes’ decision
The decision prompted further scrutiny from the commentators. Kravitz wondered aloud, “Why make the change at all?”
Davidson chimed in with his analysis, highlighting the contrasting views within the team. He suggested that Mercedes may have been concerned that Carlos Sainz, who was trailing Hamilton, might overtake him and then quickly challenge Russell. The lack of DRS (Drag Reduction System) would have made it even easier.
According to Davidson, Mercedes’ perspective was one of risk management, preparing for the worst-case scenario. Russell, on the other hand, took a different view and argued for staying in front as Hamilton had Carlos covered. Russell recognised that Hamilton’s tyre advantage and better chicane exits made him less vulnerable to overtaking.
Max Verstappen triumphs
In the end, Max Verstappen won the Japanese Grand Prix, with Hamilton finishing fifth and Carlos Sainz sixth. George Russell, the man at the centre of the strategic shuffle, finished seventh.
Mercedes’ decision to shuffle their drivers late in the race undoubtedly left spectators and commentators with lingering questions. The contrasting perspectives within the team, coupled with the unfolding dynamics of the race created a disadvantage for Russell who will be rightly angry with Mercedes post race.
It's in their DNA…
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 24, 2023
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