George Russell’s quest to assert himself alongside Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes will lead to a ‘changing of the guard’ eventually, say some leading pundits.
Having joined the Mercedes squad for 2022 as an eager youngster chomping at the bit to prove himself, Russell has hit something of a career plateau in recent months.
With Lewis Hamilton showing no signs of slowing down and putting pen to paper for another two years at Mercedes, Russell hasn’t yet inherited the ‘team leader’ role that seemed a near certainty when he got the call to step up from Williams at the end of 2021.
Natalie Pinkham: There will be a changing of the guard at Mercedes
There’s been an uneasy co-operation between Hamilton and Russell in the 18 months or so they’ve been teammates on track. While amiable enough together off-track, there has been signs of tension on-track with the recent Japanese Grand Prix perhaps the most egregious example of the ‘every man for himself’ mentality being adopted by both.
Russell overtook Hamilton on track following an error from the seven-time World Champion, only to have Hamilton steam back past down the pit straight. Shortly after, Hamilton pushed Russell wide into the escape area at Spoon in defence, slowing them both down and prompted a questioning radio message from Russell.
Later in the race, having employed different strategies, Russell showed his annoyance by saying Hamilton could give him DRS in his attempted defence against Carlos Sainz, saying “it’s the least he could do after pushing me off”, indicating the incident had stuck with him.
While there hasn’t been any boiling over of tensions, the signs are there that the young charge is eager to establish a leading position at Mercedes – his impatience being tempered by the continuing presence of Hamilton.
Appearing on the F1 Nation podcast, Sky F1’s Natalie Pinkham and Aston Martin ambassador Pedro de la Rosa addressed the developing dynamic.
“What’s interesting is the dynamic between the seven-time World Champion in Lewis Hamilton and George Russell… OK, he’s no longer a rookie, he’s kind of more established in the team now,” Pinkham said.
“But I find it really interesting because, at some point, there’s going to be a changing of the guard on that team. How hard does Russell push it now, in order to sort of gain authority, gain acceptance?
“Obviously that mistake in Singapore, he said himself: ‘What am I, a rookie?’
“That was a mistake that felt [like] inexperience, it didn’t feel like a mistake that Lewis would make.
“So I feel that George is keen to assert himself at the moment, he wants to forget Singapore and say, ‘You know what, I can be a team leader’.
“There’s no doubt that he can, he’s just not quite to the level of Lewis yet. But, at some point, there’s going to be a sort of handing over of the baton, if you like.”
Pedro de la Rosa: George Russell has performed at an incredible level
De La Rosa, a former F1 driver and long-time tester with McLaren, said he’s been hugely impressed by the talents Russell has shown alongside Hamilton.
“George Russell is one of my favorite drivers,” he said.
“It’s because he’s been put together with Lewis Hamilton, and then we have managed to realise his true performance level, his true potential.
“That’s why I like him so much. It’s just that he’s stunningly fast, consistently fast. A lot better, to be honest, than what I expected. He has the quality to become World Champion.”
Asked what he had expected, De La Rosa said, “I was expecting someone fast, definitely. I mean, if not, he wouldn’t have achieved what he has achieved, but not as consistently fast and close to Lewis.
“There are some weekends where George has the edge on Lewis, and some others when Lewis has the edge on George. I thought that he was going to be close but always one step behind Lewis. That was my feeling.
“Now that we’ve had one and a half seasons together with Lewis, you can say that he’s performed at an incredible level and he should be very proud and he’s definitely proud. I think very good things will come out from George in the future as well.”
With Russell having put in three years at Williams, all while waiting for Mercedes to give him the nod to step up to the plate, Pinkham believes the young English driver has the patience to wait for Hamilton to be out of the picture.
“Don’t forget he’s been incredibly patient all his career, remember how patient he was at Williams?” she said.
“When he could see his mates in Alex [Albon] up at Red Bull, and Lando [Norris] at McLaren, and they’re getting decent results.
“He just held his own and just held his breath and said, ‘No, I will get there eventually’. I really like his attitude as well, because he’s modest. He’s humble and prepared to take advice from Lewis but he’s not a pushover either.
“He’s not overawed by being in a team with a multiple World Champion. That ticks a lot of boxes. He’s level-headed, he’s mature and he’s prepared to be self-critical as well, in the same way that say Charles [Leclerc] is because he will take himself off and talk to himself.
“He beat himself up about [Singapore], but he’s also learned from it. So he’s a work in progress, there’s no doubt. I don’t know how long that timeline is for him. But I guess it will be when Lewis ultimately retires that he will take over from the team, but he’s got a long career ahead of him, no doubt.
De La Rosa agreed, saying: “He just has to keep finishing and doing the job he’s doing. Eventually, when Mercedes brings a car that is more competitive, he will win. He is in such a good position right now with that talent sitting under his legs, I think that he will have no limits in the future.”