Damon Hill believes the focus on the relationship between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell could hit “overdrive” in 2023, assuming Mercedes “get their act together” and produce a car capable of racing for victories.
Hamilton and Russell worked together harmoniously in their first year as Mercedes team-mates, with the 1996 World Champion reasoning that lagging behind Red Bull and Ferrari helped them work to push the team forward, rather than battling each other.
The closest they came was at Interlagos, when Russell managed to hold off his team-mate in the closing laps to take his maiden grand prix victory and Mercedes’ only win of the 2022 season.
But while Hill backed Hamilton to come out on top between the two of them this time around, the time could come when tensions may rise between them if they end up fighting for race victories regularly in 2023.
“If Mercedes do get their act together, the attention on Lewis and George is going to go into overdrive,” Hill wrote in a column for the Telegraph.
“Last season they neatly avoided any run-ins by virtue of being in the trenches together. But if they have a winning car, that is when things get serious.
“George is as mild-mannered and respectful as they come, but when the prize is so big, when it is that thing you have been working towards your entire life, elbows inevitably get sharper.
“If I was forced to back one of them, I’d probably plump for Lewis on the basis of his greater experience and the fact he appears to have his mojo back, especially if he sniffs a victory. He looks and sounds in great shape.
“Certainly I think George would have to do something more than he did last year to get the better of his team-mate again. But it’s doubtful we have seen ‘peak George’ just yet.”
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Of course, testing is far from the most accurate indicator when it comes to overall pace of the cars, with fuel loads and engine modes often concealed from view as the teams’ true speed is hidden until the cars run in anger.
But both Hamilton and Russell spoke of their belief that there is still work to be done to work up to the pace of Red Bull, whose ominous speed and reliability in the three days of testing around Bahrain make them the firm favourites for victory at the weekend – with Russell acknowledging a Mercedes win looks “a bit of a stretch” at this point.
But Formula 1’s longest ever calendar is on the way and there is plenty of time for Mercedes to get on terms with their rivals and even mount a title challenge of their own, which in turn would put the microscope on the two Brits in the team.