Lewis Hamilton: ‘There’s no gentlemen’s agreement, it’s every man for himself’

Jamie Woodhouse
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2023.

Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Budapest, July 2023.

With George Russell downplaying the “gentleman’s agreement” after his Q1 exit in Hungarian GP qualifying, his team-mate Lewis Hamilton concurred that there is no such thing as “panicking” racers scramble to set a lap.

A new format is being trialled for the first time at the Hungaroring, known as the ‘Alternative Tyre Allocation’ [ATA], which sees drivers receive 11 sets of slick tyres for the race weekend rather than the usual 13.

In addition to that, drivers had specific compounds for each section of qualifying, the hards in Q1, mediums in Q2 and softs in Q3, rather than having the luxury of a free choice throughout.

Lewis Hamilton backs George Russell’s “gentleman’s agreement” claim

It always felt then like a surprise or two could crop up in qualifying as the drivers continued to adapt to this format, and Russell was the unfortunate casualty.

Having been heavily compromised by overtaking cars as drivers positioned themselves through the last corner for a final flying lap, Russell found himself dropping out in Q1, but rather than falling back on the “gentleman’s agreement” explanation, that being that drivers are not meant to queue cut and screw each other, he instead blamed Mercedes for landing him in that situation.

With Russell saying that “you’ve all got to think about yourself at one point”, the topic was then put to Hamilton, who went on to claim his 104th career pole, during the post-qualifying press conference.

“There’s never been a gentleman’s agreement, really,” Hamilton affirmed.

“We try to be respectful always, but I think in that moment everyone’s panicking trying to get their laps [in].”

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Their fellow Brit, McLaren’s Lando Norris, backed that ‘every man for himself’ mentality, arguing that drivers are leaving such big gaps to the cars ahead, in search of the ideal pocket of clear air, that they actually “screw themselves over”.

“I had to get my lap in, my lap got taken away [for track limits],” said Norris in response to Hamilton’s comments. “It was like a race out there.

“Sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, I had to get a lap in. Everyone leaves such big gaps, I started my lap like two seconds behind George and it was good enough still for like a P8 or something, and that was on my second lap on the tyre.

“People just try and leave such such big gaps, at some point they screw themselves over and cause themselves a problem. I made the most of it today and did what I had to do to get my lap in.”

That assessment was met with an “every man for himself” outburst from Hamilton, with reigning World Champion Max Verstappen, who joins Hamilton on the front row, signing from the same hymn sheet as his peers.

“Normally when you have enough time, everyone kind of just follows each other for most of it, but at that point, yeah, there were some that still needed to get a lap in, and then you know that if you’re not going, you will get effed,” he said.

“So you have to go, otherwise you will be the one who is getting screwed over in the last corner and that creates that big of a mess.

“Sometimes it happens, I guess most of the time it works out for you, and sometimes it bites you.”

Norris will be hoping to put plenty of pressure on Verstappen and Hamilton in the run down to Turn 1 on Sunday, the McLaren driver looking to score back-to-back F1 podium finishes for the first time.

Read next: George Russell dispels ‘gentleman’s agreement’ myth as Mercedes make ‘rare’ mistake