Lewis Hamilton may have lost to George Russell last season but Johnny Herbert reckons he could win the team-mate tussle this year as he rises to the “really hot” pressure of knowing his team-mate will push him.
As Mercedes struggled in Formula 1’s first year of racing ground effect aerodynamic cars, the W13 not only suffering with extreme porpoising but also having a small working window, it was Russell who coped best.
The former Williams driver not only secured Mercedes’ only win of the championship, P1 at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, but he out-scored Hamilton by 275 points to 240.
In doing so he became only the third team-mate in Hamilton’s F1 career to beat the seven-time World Champion in the overall standings.
Herbert explains why he thinks Russell was able to get the better of his compatriot.
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“I think Lewis started last year probably a little bit frustrated, knowing the car wasn’t great,” the former F1 driver told Total-Motorsport.com.
“I don’t think he had the right mental approach because he was probably frustrated, as a racing driver would be as a seven-time World Champion, trying to get eighth, which was taken away from him.”
Herbert backs Hamilton to ‘up his game’
He, however, believes the 35-year-old will come back stronger this season.
“Now that opportunity has reset to get himself mentally and physically prepared [for this season],” he continued.
“It’s a good thing, maybe for Lewis, knowing that the pressure is going to be really hot from George.”
The former Sky Sports pundit believes Hamilton is now well aware of the challenge that Russell poses, and as with any intra-team battle, that will have the 103-time grand prix winner raising his own game.
“It can be a very positive thing for a driver to know your team-mate is going to be strong, to be pushed,” he said. “You know you need to up your game straightaway.
“Lewis has done that in the past but he’s coming to the end of his career.”
But there’ll be a ‘crossover at some point’
While Herbert thinks Hamilton could hit the front again this season, at least at Mercedes, he acknowledges there will come a time when there’s a changing of the guard.
Some pundits believe it’s already happened last season, however, Herbert doubts that.
He said: “Things change as you get older and when you have a young whippersnapper coming in, who’s hungry for that success, there is going to be a crossover at some point.
“Will that be this year? I would be surprised.
“But I think it’s gonna be a mighty, tight tussle with George very hungry to try and take the reins away from Lewis, who won’t give up very easily as well. That’s what we want.”