Races both finished: 10-9
“Nine times out of ten, when you finish ahead of Lewis Hamilton, you probably become World Champion,” said George Russell after becoming only the third team-mate of Lewis Hamilton’s to beat him.
But he wasn’t World Champion, he wasn’t even in the fight and it wasn’t until the penultimate race of the season that he finally broke his duck to record his maiden grand prix win. It was Russell’s best season ever in Formula 1, and yet it was a let down.
One can only imagine how it must have felt for Hamilton.
As the season with its all-new ground effect aerodynamic cars kicked off with the Bahrain Grand Prix, Mercedes knew immediately they were in trouble with their W13 and its zero-pods bouncing around. They still managed a 3-4 result, Hamilton ahead of Russell, aided by a double retirement from Red Bull. The eight-time Constructors’ Champions were the third best team, at best.
Russell’s fourth place began an impressive run of nine top-five results, Mr. Saturday was reborn as Mr. Consistency. In those nine races he also managed three P3s, pundits in awe of the former Williams driver getting a march on Hamilton, not something easily achieved.
Hamilton managed just one additional P3 in those nine with his 13th place at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix his worst performance in years. Both Mercedes and their World Champion made it known he was the one doing all the experimenting with set-up as the the team tried to eradicating the porpoising.
He spoke of “experiencing 10Gs on a bump” and a “lot more bruising” as well as headaches but vowed to push through, and through he went.
As Russell retired from the British Grand Prix – ‘the type of guy to stop his car to check on a rival’- Hamilton celebrated a Silverstone podium, his second top-three in a run of five podiums. It set the scene for the back half of the championship as Hamilton emerged as the stronger of the two Mercedes drivers.
While the likes of Ferrari took a hit as TD39 came into play at the Belgian Grand Prix, all eyes were on Mercedes to see whether or not the FIA’s vertical oscillation limits would come back to bite them after Toto Wolff pushed so hard for the FIA to intervene on porpoising.
It never transpired, in fact the Brackley squad’s W13 was without a doubt the biggest improver in the second part of the season as Russell and Hamilton took the fight to Ferrari, and some days even Max Verstappen.
Back on track after the summer break, both drivers added three more podium finishes to their tally including a run of three successive P2s for Hamilton, but it was Russell’s victory at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix that set them apart.
As Hamilton missed out in Austin and Mexico, runner-up to Verstappen in both races with rivals putting that down to Mercedes getting his strategy wrong, Russell seized his opportunity in Brazil and won the sprint race to secure pole position. He followed that up by racing to the chequered flag on the Sunday, Mercedes’ and Russell’s first win of the season. Hamilton was P2.
But it was back to earth at the season finale, porpoising back in play and Mercedes off the pace. They went from pole position the previous race to eight-tenths down in qualifying. It wasn’t any better in the race as Russell was fifth while Hamilton retired with a hydraulic issue to record his first-ever season without a single race win.
Russell came out on top in the stat that matters, the points in the Drivers’ Championship and by 35 points ahead of Hamilton, but Wolff was quick to call that “irrelevant” as they weren’t fighting for race wins or titles.
It was nonetheless a feather in his cap as only two other team-mates – Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg – can they say beat Hamilton. Illustrious company, that.
But Wolff is somewhat right in what he said because at no stage did Formula 1 see a proper wheel-to-wheel battle between Russell and Hamilton, something we all had waited for with bated breath. F1 brought the curtain down on 2022 still unsure as to how the pretender to the throne could match up against the record-setting legend.
Perhaps we’ll find out next season…