Lewis Hamilton ‘understudy’ George Russell must be ‘fuming’ over Suzuka

Michelle Foster
George Russell and Lewis Hamilton opposite one another in the Mercedes garage. Spain June 2023

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton opposite one another looking at monitors in the Mercedes garage. Spain June 2023

Second to Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes hierarchy, Anthony Davidson says George Russell was probably “fuming” as he raced team-mate in Japan but was “very British about it”.

Hamilton and Russell found themselves racing one another not once but three times at the Japanese Grand Prix, a race in which Hamilton finished fifth to his team-mate’s P7.

Fraught radio communications and team orders played a role in the outcome in a race in which the two came close to crashing when Hamilton ran himself and Russell wide through Spoon with both drivers off the track.

‘George Russell is still Lewis Hamilton’s understudy’

Russell, clearly not happy with his team-mate’s antics, asked over the radio: “Who do we want to fight here? Each other or the others?”

He was on the radio again later in the race when Mercedes told him to give fifth place to Hamilton with the 25-year-old clearly not happy with the call as he wanted Hamilton to protect him from the charging Carlos Sainz.

Mercedes, though, stressed the order and Russell relented, later putting his radio messages down as venting “to release some frustration”.

Davidson reckons he was probably “fuming” during their Suzuka tussles but ultimately respected the “hierarchy” that is within the Mercedes team.

“For now they are behaving themselves but there’s definitely a hierarchy in that team and rightly so,” the former F1 driver told the Sky Sports F1 podcast. “Lewis has earned that status in that team as a seven-time World Champion and George can’t argue against that.

“And George is still the understudy. And he’s doing a very good job on those occasions where he’s got the speed over Lewis to really take the fight to him. But he’s doing it in such a George Russell polite way, which is quite humorous to watch.

“Because I know inside the car, he’ll be fuming and steaming wanting to find his way past at any moment, and that’s why we see the near misses, the drivers coming almost to blows, almost to contact.

“But then he’s a good boy on the radio and he takes it. You can tell he’s very British about it and there are layers to the nuance, so I think it always comes over as ‘Yeah, I’m okay with this but if you could please, very thankfully, much appreciated’.

“He could be maybe a bit more vocal if things were different, but I think for now he knows where he is in the team. He knows he’s got the speed, we see it as well from the outside, and Lewis is getting his elbows out when he needs to.

“I’m really intrigued by this battle and watching George develop as a driver. And I’m watching Lewis in his latter years in his career, let’s truthfully speak about that, watching this young, hard-charging driver, and George really threatening him for speed and consistency. And it’s great to watch Lewis getting stuck in as well.”

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But how long with the harmony last?

Davidson says while there is harmony today to a degree, the team-mates working together to drive Mercedes forward, if or when they find themselves in a position to fight for the Drivers’ Championship that could disintegrate.

“I think it clearly would, yes,” he said. “It becomes much more personal, and much more competitive when you’re fighting for a championship rather than fighting for the positions they were in say the Japanese Grand Prix, for example.

“And yes, you always want to try and beat your team-mate but it definitely becomes more… you’ve got more of a valid reason to fight team orders when you’re going for a championship.

“And I’ve seen it with McLaren drivers as well, and the Ferrari drivers this season, where things get a bit too close for comfort, and the team have to step in and say, ‘Think about who you’re driving for here and what the ultimate goal is’.

“Well, when you’re fighting for a World Championship yourself, well I’m sorry but that’s my goal. And yeah, I don’t want to crash into my team-mate and ruin things for the team itself but I’m in this for myself as well.

“So it’s a like a catch 22 isn’t it? Are you doing it for yourself or the team?

“And when you’re not fighting for a World Championship yourself then you just kind of slip back into more ‘Yeah, let’s do this together, work together for the greater good’.

“And until it comes to those moments where it is more about you, you kind of go from being more kind of employee to a self-limited company.

“Is the driver an employee? It’s a really grey area and one that I’d love to talk about because I’ve been on both sides as a driver and as a team-mate. It’s not an easy question to answer.”

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