George Russell is determined to ensure his relationship with Lewis Hamilton doesn’t break down, even if the Mercedes team-mates are fighting for Formula 1’s top honours.
Last season was Russell’s first as Hamilton’s team-mate but rather than the sparks many predicted could fly as the pretender took on the seven-time World Champion, the Mercedes team-mates worked together to help the Brackley squad recover from their bouncing start.
The team-mates recorded just one moment in the 22 races, fighting for position at the start of the Mexican Grand Prix.
That Sunday Russell was crowded by Hamilton as they came out of Turn 3, the younger Briton declaring that had it been “anyone else but my team-mate, I would have just run them off the road”.
That, though, was the total of their shenanigans, both drivers respectful of one another as they raced 1-2 a week later with Russell leading Hamilton across the line at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
This season, with Mercedes expected to rebound after 2022’s disappointment, Russell is determined not to let his relationship with Hamilton implode.
Lewis Hamilton v Max Verstappen: Key stats compared after first eight seasons in F1
Toto Wolff fires warning shot ahead of F1 2023 season: ‘Do not write us off’
Lewis Hamilton car collection: Take a closer look at his incredible private garage
“If our relationship starts to break up,” he said according to autoevolution, “it’s going to have an impact on the team and ultimately it’s going to go full circle and affect us as well.
“I think we can continue to build off this and if anything our relationship will probably get closer as time goes on.”
He does acknowledge that if they’re fighting at the sharp end of the grid this season for race wins it will have an impact on their dynamic.
He, however, believes they’ll continue to be respectful.
“I mean naturally if you are fighting for 1-2s there will be a slightly different dynamic and that’s only natural,” he said.
“But I think the thing we have going for us is the fact that we are at very different stages of our career.
“It kind of feels like we are in this together, really.
“If we’ve got a car that’s capable of 1-2 finishes, we will have a huge amount of pride in thinking we have contributed together in helping the team achieve this.
“And then we go about our business. But we’ve got no reason to have conflict. We have got a good relationship.
“We need to give each other respect, and I think we gave each other respect [in Mexico at the first corners] as an example.”
But it could be a case of famous last words…
It’s very easy to say respect will be maintained when fighting for fifth or sixth place, what’s the point of punting your team-mate off the track when you know that the only way the team will get back to P1 is if you work together.
But once up in P1 and with a race-winning car, the situation changes – it has to.
Formula 1 drivers are in the sport to win, they aren’t there to support someone else’s challenge unless of course that’s in their contract.
And that isn’t in Russell’s with Toto Wolff insisting several times they are free to race and both will be given the same opportunities by Mercedes.
Russell has one race win to his name, 2022 Sao Paulo, Hamilton has 103. As for their championship titles it’s nil to seven.
There is no way Russell will back down against Hamilton, but then again he shouldn’t. If he does it against his compatriot then his rivals will think he’s an easy mark, someone to be pushed around.
While both drivers need to respect Mercedes, the team’s efforts and their fans, they have to race one another hard but fair. It’s possible, just look at Verstappen v Leclerc in the opening rounds of the 2022 season.