Having started the Formula One 2023 season embarrassed by their power unit customer team Aaron Martin beating them hands down, Mercedes have fought back well since they ditched their ‘zeropod’ aero package.
They also appeared to gain a tyre advantage over their rivals for 2nd place as Ferrari and Aston Bull needed to pit earlier during the European races due to their cars degrading the tyres excessively.
Mercedes drivers ‘friendly’ appearance
With the exception of Red Bull’s dominant lead over the former world champion team, for the Sumer of 2023 much was rosey in the garden including the relationship between their drivers.
George Russell soundly beat Lewis Hamilton during his first year with the team in 2022. Russell finished the season in the drivers championship in fourth, behind both Red Bull drivers and Charles Leclerc whose Ferrari had appeared to have the edge over the Mercedes W13.
Despite the 35 point difference between the Mercedes pair, the relationship had held up pretty well with Lewis returning to form towards the back end of the year.
This year in performance terms its a whole different story. Russell has struggled and even allowing for his two mechanical DNF’s the gap of 75 points to Hamilton is larger than expected.
Russell fights back
Yet the young British driver has fought back in recent weeks beating Lewis in three out of the four qualifying sessions since the summer break to level the score at 8-8.
On track during the race it has been closer too between the Mercedes rivals. Russell held of Hamilton for lap after lap towards the end of the Singapore gRand Prix only to hit the wall on the penultimate lap of the race.
In Japan, having turned around his qualifying defect to George, Hamilton led during the early stages of the race. Yet Russell was quicker. He attempted a move on his team matt the final chicane but Hamilton shut the door.
Then at Spoon corner Russell attempted a move around the outside, only to be run wide by Hamilton.
Mercedes split up their cars
George complained on the radio that Lewis’ behaviour was damaging both their races against the Ferrari’s but Hamilton was allowed to remain ahead.
Mercedes then decided to split the strategies between the cars with the fortunate result for the team management that this meant the cars were no longer on the same section of asphalt.
Russell on a 1 stop and Hamilton on a 2 stop were always going to meet in the final laps with Hamilton behind but on fresh rubber.
When the situation arose, Russell on his older tyres managed pretty well to keep Hamilton behind him but the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz was closing in on the pair.
Russell devises a cunning plan
Mercedes instructed Russell to let Hamilton by and George questioned the team order given he had not received the same favour earlier in the race.
Further the younger driver suggested they make the swap on the last lap of the race, then Lewis could fend of Carlos Sainz with his fresher tyres for the next 3 laps – while receiving DRS from George.
The team insisted over the radio “this is a team order” and Russell complied. Hamilton was told to give his team mate DRS and slow down but the damage was done.
Sainz came past with ease and Mercedes dropped two more points as Ferrari closed in to reduce the deficit to just 20 points.
“sub optimal” strategy says Russell
In the post race interviews, Russell described the 1 stop strategy devised on the hoof by Mercedes for him as “sub-optimal”. He went on to suggest that even if the team wanted to separate the cars on track a 2 stop for him would have been quicker.
When questioned about his questionable defending from his team mate, Hamilton asserted that given he has scored most of Mercedes points he was rightly given priority.
Following the chequered flag, Hamilton was critical of Russell for fighting him while Sainz was ramping up the pressure.
“We should have swapped around earlier, and I should have got as far ahead as possible to get the gap as big as we could to the Ferrari,” Hamilton explained.
Hamilton criticises George
Hamilton chose to ignore the example set in Singapore the previous week, where drivers could work together using DRS with tight margins to prevent a competitor overtaking them. It was this Russell was requesting they attempt.
“He [Russell] was trying to fight me. He was damaging his tyres, and I think it just made it all complicated. The fact is, we are not fighting each other in the team championship.
“As drivers, it is not important where we are. What is important is that one of us finishes ahead of the Ferrari and to keep the position. Today, we really needed to work as a team.”
Later when speaking to the written media, Hamilton called for talks with Russell to clear the air given that both drivers had been critical of each other following the Japanese Grand Prix.
Lewis calls for ‘peace’ talks
Hamilton said: “Well, for sure, we’ll talk offline. That’s the best way to do it. Our ultimate goal is to try and get ahead of the Ferraris and that’s what my goal was today.
“And it’s to beat the Ferraris in a Constructors’ Championship. That’s all that matters. We’re not fighting for drivers’ position in the championship because, firstly, we’re not close, and secondly, we’re not fighting for the championship.
“So now it’s about just getting the maximum points for the team. I think that’s what we did today.”
Of course Lewis may sound a little disingenuous as he closes in on Sergio Perez for second place in the drivers’ title race. For Hamilton to come second to Verstappen in a season when he has been so dominant would be a much needed feather for Lewis to fit to his cap.
Russell needs to wake up
Further, Russell’s suggestion that Hamilton remain the rear gunner until the final lap would have achieved the result of beating back the Ferrari charge to catch Mercedes.
Hamilton is the master of the reason for why he should receive preferential treatment over his dream mate; something Nico Rosberg was able to overcome and beat Lewis to the world title in 2016.
Russell needs to toughen up and act with more self interest. He should maybe have maintained radio silence in Japan, refused to allow Hamilton through until the final lap to have proven his point.
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 25, 2023
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