F1 commentator Peter Windsor has again questioned Mercedes’ decision to replace Valtteri Bottas with George Russell, claiming Russell is visibly “eating into Lewis Hamilton’s self-confidence.”
Despite helping Mercedes to five consecutive Constructors’ Championships after replacing Nico Rosberg in 2017, Bottas was dropped by Mercedes at the end of 2021 to make way for Russell, a product of the team’s driver academy.
The exit of Bottas, now competing for Alfa Romeo, coincided with Mercedes’ fall from grace, with the team struggling to adapt to the ground effect regulations implemented at the start of the 2022 season.
Do Lewis Hamilton and George Russell make a good match at Mercedes?
Russell was the only Mercedes driver to win a race in 2022 after beating Hamilton to the chequered flag in Brazil, but Hamilton has hit back strongly this year and leads his team-mate by 72 points ahead of this weekend’s season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
However, Hamilton remains without a race victory since the penultimate round of 2021 in Saudi Arabia and is poised to suffer a second successive barren year in 2023.
Speaking after qualifying for last weekend’s Las Vegas GP, where Russell secured third on the grid with Hamilton back in 10th, 1992 title-winning Williams team manager Windsor aired his belief that Mercedes made a mistake in dropping Bottas for Russell.
And he feels the strain is starting to show on 38-year-old Hamilton, who admitted he couldn’t go any quicker in qualifying in Vegas after falling in Q2.
Appearing via his YouTube channel, Windsor said: “When you watch Bottas in that black Alfa, it looks a little bit like Bottas in the black Mercedes days and you still think: ‘Hmm, did Mercedes do the right thing in firing him and replacing him with George Russell?’
“Not because George isn’t quick – George is a quicker driver than Valtteri, absolutely no doubt about that – but in terms of getting the best from Lewis, would we have a different Lewis if Valtteri was in the other car? That’s an unanswered question, of course.
“My opinion is yes and I think the minute George starts to go quicker than Lewis, you can see it eating into Lewis’s self-confidence and doubt.
“You can hear him on the radio saying: ‘What is the margin?’ And when they say where George is, you can [hear] a breath of: ‘Oof.’
“I thought Lewis’s comment at the end [of Q2] – “I just couldn’t go any quicker” – was very telling.
“Maybe that’s to do with the temperature he had in the tyres and the amount of grip level he had, but I think it was also: ‘I gave it everything and I can’t drive like George Russell on a circuit like this.'”
Windsor’s latest comments come after he claimed following September’s Japanese GP that Hamilton “always wanted to keep Valtteri, not necessarily because he loved Valtteri but because it was the right balance of the team” – likening their partnership to the dynamic between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez at 2023 World Champions Red Bull.
Bottas revealed just weeks before his Mercedes exit was announced in 2021 that Hamilton was keen for him to stay, telling Finland’s MTV Sport: “Lewis has told me directly that he would like me to be his team-mate.”