Back in the heady summer of 2021 when Lewis was clawing his way back into the title fight with Max Verstappen that would ultimately go down to the wire, the last round of talks with Mercedes were ongoing to extend Hamilton’s contract.
Both parties were playing their usual negotiation games with Hamilton waxing lyrical about driving for Ferrari being “every driver’s dream.”
Hamilton muses over Ferrari drive
“For years, whenever I come to Monza and see the fans, I hear them saying ‘Come to Ferrari!’,” the Mercedes driver told Sky Italia
“It warms my heart but it’s pretty amazing that I’ve never driven for Ferrari after so many years. Because it’s a dream for everyone, a goal to be achieved. It’s never really been possible and I will never quite know exactly why.”
Of course the titanic struggle with Red Bull’s Verstappen only decided on the last lap of the last race meant the Ferrari line up for 2022 was secured and despite talk of retirement, Hamilton predictably decided to stay with Mercedes for another two seasons.
Yet during the European season paddock rumours began swirling that Mercedes were going to promote George Russell to drive alongside Hamilton for the following year which solicited a very public response from the world champion.
Lewis wanted Bottas to stay
“Valtteri is my team now and we’ve both of us had our ups and downs in our careers,” he said as reported by Racefans in June.
“But as I said, I think he is a fantastic team mate and I don’t necessarily see that it needs to change.”
Bottas had been on a rolling one year contract with the Brackley based F1 team since Nico Rosberg’s surprise departure at the end of the 2016 season.
Of course Lewis was comfortable with Valtteri because in the five years they raced together as team mates Hamilton won the title between 2017-2020 and the gap between the two at the end of each season ranged from 79.5 points (2017) up to a huge 160 points in their final year together.
Valtteri benefits ‘the team’
Hamilton was playing on the Mercedes’ current team ‘harmony’ factor as ex-F1 driver John Watson noted at the time.
“If you bring in a young lion like George, who I think is outstanding… I’ve seen over the years where you bring in two drivers who then end up fighting each other in the championship, you open the door to another team.”
Russell had already earned his spurs the previous season when he stepped up to fill in for Bottas at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
In his one off appearance for Mercedes he finished ninth, but the statistics don’t reveal the true story. Russell was comfortably leading the race before a botched pit stop dropped him down the order.
The writing from then was on the wall for the likeable Valtteri, because as talented as Hamilton was the team knew they needed young title winning potential for the eventual future without their seven times champion driver.
Of course the rest is history.
George Russell was announced as Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes partner in the September of 2021 just as Hamilton was beginning his fightback with Verstappen in the championship.
George looked comfortable on arriving at Mercedes for 2022 and clearly adapted more quickly than Hamilton to the new ground effect aero designed cars.
George beats Lewis 2022
He was to finish the season 35 points ahead of Hamilton, something only Button and Rosberg have achieved during his then sixteen year career in F1.
This year has been disappointing for George who started the year on the back foot with a retirement due to mechanical problems in Australia. He trails his team mate by 75 points, though he thew away a third place finish in Singapore with a penultimate lap mistake.
Yet Russell has been m making life difficult for Hamilton since the summer break, out qualifying him on three of the four occasions presented.
In Singapore the pair raced wheel to wheel as they chased down the leading Ferrari and McLaren and in Japan Russell pushed Lewis to the limit on a number of occasions.
Mercedes ruin Russell strategy
Such was the intensity of their battle, Mercedes decided to switch Russell to a one stop strategy which had the effect of separating their cars on track for most of the race.
However, Russell described this as “sub-optimal” and also called the team out for not using Hamilton on fresher tyres to play the role of his wing man to keep Carlos Sainz at bay.
Mercedes issued the team order to Russell to allow Hamilton through, which he did, and was then inevitably overtaken by the Ferrari of Sainz.
Both drivers had their say in the media pen following the race and openly criticised both each other and the team’s decisions.
Team ‘will talk behind closed doors’
Toto Wolff was not present due to him requiring a knee operation and the explanations to the press was left to the inexperienced Bradley Lord (Comms Director) who merely commented the issues that had arisen would be discussed behind closed doors.
Ex-F1 team manager Peter Windsor now observes via his YouTube channel, “You could tell that there is definitely acrimony between the two now – and that’s not a good thing.”
He goes on to argue this was always inevitable the moment the team decided to refuse Hamilton’s preference to retain Valtteri Bottas.
“Lewis always wanted to keep Valtteri, not necessarily because he loved Valtteri but because it was the right balance of the team. He could feel that. That was the same as Max Verstappen [and] Sergio Perez. It came to the surface more than ever before, I think, in the Japanese Grand Prix,” adds Windsor.
“NO solution” to the rift
So long as Hamilton finishes the season without mishap, he should easily beat George Russell. Though adjusted for mechanical failures and mishaps, the gap would be similar to the one Russell enjoyed over Lewis last year.
This week no details have yet emerged of the Mercedes debrief which is usually posted following the meeting on Tuesday.
Yet the team have a weekend off to calm down the acrimony between Russell and Hamilton but the ambitions of the young Lion cannot be caged and will only grow stronger as he grows in belief.
However, Windsor concludes he believes matters are fundamentally broken between the Mercedes pair: “There is NO solution to the Hamilton-Russell problem now. It’s Already Gone Too Far”