F1 commentator Peter Windsor believes the tension between George Russell and Lewis Hamilton at the Japanese Grand Prix proves why the latter was so keen to keep Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes beyond 2021.
Hamilton and Russell provided some of the best entertainment at Suzuka on Sunday, with the Mercedes team-mates going wheel to wheel on more than one occasion.
After Russell had overtaken Hamilton at the final chicane in the early stages of the race, the latter immediately repassed on the main straight with a decisive move before later forcing his team-mate off the track at Spoon Curve.
First cracks in the Lewis Hamilton and George Russell relationship?
In the closing laps, Russell – on a one-stop strategy – was unhappy after being instructed to gift fifth place to the two-stopping Hamilton, with the younger Brit ultimately finishing seventh after also being passed by the charging Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.
Russell arrived at Mercedes at the beginning of 2022 as the replacement for Bottas – who acted as Hamilton’s trusty wingman during his streak of five consecutive World Championships between 2017 and 2020 – and defeated Hamilton to secure Mercedes’ only victory of F1’s ground effect era so far at Interlagos last November.
Bottas, 34, helped the Alfa Romeo-branded Sauber team to their best result in the Constructors’ Championship in a decade in 2022 and famously reached Q3 at every single race in his five full seasons as a Mercedes driver as Hamilton’s team-mate.
Speaking via his YouTube channel, 1992 title-winning Williams team manager Windsor fears the arrival of Russell has upset the balance between the drivers at Mercedes, likening the bond Hamilton had with Bottas to the dynamic between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez at Red Bull currently.
And he fears that trouble awaits Mercedes can provide their battling drivers with a race-winning car in 2024.
He said: “You could tell that there is definitely acrimony between the two now – and that’s not a good thing.
“Imagine if Mercedes had a Championship-winning car and this was the World Championship and grand prix wins they were racing for, imagine what it would be like between Lewis and George.
“The good thing is it’s only for the minor placings, it’s all you can say. ‘Does it really matter that much?’ I suppose is what you’d say in the boardroom afterwards.
“But if they do get in a position actually to be doing something serious in 2024 – a big ask, you’ve got to say – then how are you going to manage that Lewis Hamilton/George Russell imbalance?
“Lewis always wanted to keep Valtteri, not necessarily because he loved Valtteri but because it was the right balance of the team. He could feel that. That was the same as Max Verstappen [and] Sergio Perez.
“It came to the surface more than ever before, I think, in the Japanese Grand Prix.”
PlanetF1.com understands that Mercedes’ decision to force Russell to move aside for Hamilton in the closing laps at Suzuka was heavily influenced by team boss Toto Wolff.
Wolff was absent from Japan as he recovers from knee surgery, but was said to have made the final call to end the battle between his drivers.