The Formula One Mercedes AMG F1 team are stuck between a rock and a hard place and their driver recruitment programme is now proving a problem the team do not have the will to resolve. By signing George Russell the team clearly believe he is their future number one driver when Lewis Hamilton finally realises his dream of an eight world title is over.
Yet for now, Mercedes are still focused on Hamilton as their number one driver having resigned the seven times world champion for two more years.
Mercedes terrified of driver problems
This weekends Sao Paulo 2023 Grand Prix made it clear Hamilton is their preferred driver when it comes to race strategy and Russel for now and maybe two more years must play second fiddle.
The start of the Grand Prix saw chaotic scenes at turn one which Race Control decided required a red flag and the subsequent restart saw the Mercedes pair running behind each other with Hamilton in there lead.
Russell challenged Hamilton for lap after lap but couldn’t find a way through though surprisingly he did not radio in requesting the team instruct Hamilton to allow him through.
Mercedes have given instructions to force both of their drivers to allow the other through this season, but only when they have placed their cars on different tyre strategies. In Brazil, this was not the case, so once the race was restarted for lap after lap Russell was within 1 send of his team mate and during that first phase of the race was clearly the quicker of the two.
Russell follows Hamilton relentlessly
The Sky F1 commentators suggested Mercedes should be instructing Hamilton to allow Russell through, but the call never came.
Meanwhile the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz closed one the pair at a rapid rate of notts mugging mugging Russell within a lap of arriving at the rear of the Mercedes. The Ferrari driver then passed Hamilton with ease a handful of Laos later.
After the first round of pit stops, the order between the Mercedes drivers remained the same. Russell continued to remain close to Hamilton which clearly was destroying his trees and increasing the temperatures inside the mechanics of the W14.
Coming into the race in Brazil, Mercedes felt they were on the up with Lewis Hamilton claiming two second place finishes in Austin and Mexico though he was disqualified for running an illegal car at the 2023 US GP.
Self destruct button pressed
Yet the horror show in Brazil reveals the former world champion team is as far away from challenging Red Bull as they were at the start of the 2022 season the the bog FIA car design rule changes came into force.
Having been passed by Fernando Alonso in a breath taking move Hamilton was relegated to fourth as his team mate closed in rapidly. The headache for the Mercedes pit wall was multiplied as clearly the younger driver from Kings Lynn was clearly quicker than his team mate.
After around 20 minutes of the Mercedes cars running line astern, Russel finally contacted the team to see of they had realised he was quicker than Lewis.
All the time Sergio Perez was closing on the two Mercedes and picked off George Russell with ease before setting about the struggling Lewis Hamilton. Checo cleared Hamilton with ease and the demise of the Mercedes cars then began immediately.
George finally petitions over radio
Russell’s behaviour was bizarre to say the least given he hounded Hamilton for lap after lap within the 1 second tine gap that allowed him to use the DRS zone. This destroyed George’s tyres and given that heating was a significant concern for the teas, Russell’s dogged pursuit of Hamilton seemed a strange decision. Yet George was proving inn silence to the team that he was quicker than Hamilton and expected them to make the smart choice to maximise the team’s final positions.
Finally Russells patience broke and and he radioed in, “Either I need to overtake or he needs to manage more through there.”
The response was silence – and in that moment Mercedes achilles heel was revealed.
On the second stint running the medium tyre, Mercedes began to fall like a stone throughout the remainder of the race. Their tyre degradation was worse than their rivals and so switch sat least one of their drivers to three stop strategy seemed a no brainer.
Mercedes dither and delay
Perez easily caught the two squabbling Mercedes cars and dispatched them with relative ease. Why the team failed to decide to switch one of their drivers to an alternative strategy beggars belief.
Clearly Mercedes were locked into a strategy which was focused on tyre management and a two stop strategy and this is the reason they forced Russell to hold station behind his team mate and defer to Hamilton’s preferred race strategy.
The question that must seriously be addressed internally at Mercedes as to whether they are looking to the past or the future and given the poor quality of the car can they really afford to favour their ageing world champion.
George Russell is within his rights to question a race strategy that panders to Hamilton’s tyre saving strategy is the right way to go, and had he been allowed to pass Lewis and pursue a different path to see if it produced a different result.
Time to act like Ferrari?
To the outside observer Russell clearly chose to just follow his team mate as closely as possible to pressure the team into making the call to allow him through, knowing full well this would cause him greater tyre degradation and overheating of his W14 car.
The inevitable result, the team were forced to retire Russell as the oil temperatures on his car became critical due to the countless laps he had been following Hamilton within 1 second.
The race in Brazil demonstrated clearly that Mercedes are in no way capable of challenging Red Bull and particularly because they have Hamilton calling the shots.
The team need to decide to operate more like Ferrari, who have made decisions this year which benefit the team more than the demands of their star driver Charles Leclerc.