What George Russell out-qualifying Lewis Hamilton three times in a row tells Mercedes

Jamie Woodhouse
Lewis Hamilton and George Russell. Singapore October 2022.

Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and George Russell appear at a fan event before the race. Singapore October 2022.

Ex-F1 racer Martin Brundle believes that George Russell’s early-season beating of Lewis Hamilton in qualifying trim shows the team that Russell can take over the baton from Hamilton once he retires.

Although both drivers have been faced with the renewed disappointment of Mercedes starting F1 2023 without title-worthy machinery, Russell and Hamilton have nonetheless been looking to make the best of the situation.

And in that regard it has been positive for the team and their drivers, Hamilton having scored their first podium of the season with a P2 finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

But, Russell has stolen an early march on Hamilton over one lap by going 3-0 up in the F1 2023 qualifying battle, an average north of two-tenths over Hamilton across Saudi Arabian GP qualifying his strongest buffer so far.

Russell also was a contender for victory in Australia having passed Max Verstappen at the start, though the unfortunate timing of the red flags and later a power unit failure put a stopper on that.

Nonetheless, Russell is “driving beautifully” in the opinion of Brundle, who feels Russell is showing Mercedes that their F1 aspirations are in safe hands whenever their seven-time World Champion Hamilton does decide to call time on his career.

“George is driving beautifully,” Brundle told Sky Sports News. “I think there’s very little to choose between those two and that’s a massive compliment to George Russell because we know just how brilliant Lewis Hamilton is and how motivated he is.

“And what it tells Mercedes-Benz is that, for example, should Lewis retire, decide he’s had enough at any given point, they’ve got George Russell already who is really up to the job, qualifying and in the race.

“He’s 20 points behind Lewis in the Championship, because of his retirement in Australia, but that’s a great driver line-up and I think full respect to George and full respect to Lewis because I think he’s handling it extremely well.”

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As Mercedes began to recover some form last season, it was Russell who scored the team’s only pole and victory of the campaign, while Hamilton went the full calendar without winning for the first time in his Formula 1 career.

However, Sky F1 pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz wants to see how Russell stacks up against Hamilton when regular wins and titles are on the line, a scene which Hamilton is oh so familiar with.

To the suggestion that Russell has “really stepped up” into that Mercedes team, Kravitz replied during the Sky F1 podcast: “Which is why we really, really want to see Mercedes challenging for the championship with Red Bull, because then we can get into championship-challenging George Russell against championship-challenging Lewis Hamilton.

“And when they’ve actually got something to go for, because, I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine if I was Lewis Hamilton, I wasn’t in for the championship, having won so many, I’m like, ‘well, I’m not going for the championship. If George beats me, I don’t really care’.

“And you could reflect on 2022 and say George did beat him in the points, and he said, ‘well, I wasn’t in the championship, I don’t care whether I’m third or fourth, or fifth if I’m not number one’. That’s what I want to see. I want to see championship-challenging Lewis Hamilton against championship-challenging George Russell.”

Hamilton’s P2 finish in Australia lifted him up to P4 in the Drivers’ standings. He now holds an 18-point buffer over Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and sits only seven points behind Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso one position up the road.