Lewis Hamilton will win his record-breaking eighth World title before George Russell takes his first, that’s according to Toto Wolff.
Having been Mercedes’ lead driver for the past five seasons, the Briton coming up one lap short of an unprecedented eighth Drivers’ Championship in last season’s controversial Abu Dhabi finale, Hamilton has found himself trailing his new team-mate in this year’s standings.
That’s almost unheard of as the 37-year-old has only twice been beaten by a team-mate in his 15 years in Formula 1 – 2011, Jenson Button, and 2015, Nico Rosberg.
Today he finds himself trailing Russell by 33 points with five races remaining.
That’s not only five races for Hamilton to catch up, but five in which he needs to bag at least one win or this season will be his first winless campaign in Formula 1.
Russell is also chasing his first grand prix win, not just for the season but for his career.
The then Williams driver came close at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix when he filled in for Hamilton, only for a botched pit stop from Mercedes and then a puncture to ruin his efforts.
Wolff, however, reckons it’s only a matter of time before Russell takes to the top step of the podium.
“He could have had one [win] in Bahrain when he jumped in the car two years ago,” the Mercedes motorsport boss told Channel 4.
“George is a great personality. He was obviously hoping to to be in the Mercedes and win races and championships.
“He got that timing wrong, but at least he has progressed to the midfield now.
“So that time is going to come.”
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 5, 2022
And once that first win comes so too will World titles, although Wolff believes Hamilton will probably secure that record eighth before Russell seals his first.
“He will win races, he will race for championships,” he continued, “I think he absolutely has it in him.
“But maybe there’s another Lewis championship in between.”
Should Russell take that as a warning?
Ever since Mercedes confirmed Russell would join the team as Hamilton’s 2022 team-mate, Wolff has spoken about equality.
The motorsport boss insisted Mercedes have “never had a situation where [it was] one and two; they had equal opportunities and the same car.” And he said it would continue.
But while that’s been easy to follow through on this season, neither driver fighting for race wins never mind the World title, will – if Mercedes get it right next season – the Brackley squad prioritise Hamilton’s eighth over Russell’s first?
As much as I’m loathed to say it, they have to.
Russell winning a first World title would be incredible, for the driver and the team. That he would need to beat Hamilton and Max Verstappen to win that title would cement his name in F1’s history annals.
But it would not carry with it the prestige of beating Michael Schumacher’s record of seven World titles, a feat no one thought at the end anyone would ever match never mind beat.
Hamilton stands on the cusp, granted a longer, wider cusp than he thought at the start of the 2021 season, of doing just that, putting his name down as the driver with the most race wins, most pole positions and most World titles.
That, at least for the PR team, would far outweigh a Russell title.