Former Mercedes driver delivers verdict on Lewis Hamilton, George Russell Suzuka tension

Oliver Harden
Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell pose for a selfie at the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix.

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell pose for a selfie.

Former Mercedes reserve driver Sam Bird believes the tension between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell at the Japanese Grand Prix would have been more serious had a podium finish been on the line.

With the Mercedes team-mates adopting different strategies, Hamilton and Russell provided some of the most thrilling racing at Suzuka on Sunday.

Russell appeared to have passed Hamilton at the final chicane in the early stages of the race, before the latter immediately retook the position on the pit straight.

Lewis Hamilton, George Russell battle easier to manage for Mercedes

Russell later found himself being pushed wide by Hamilton at the high-speed Spoon Curve, with the pair reunited in the closing stages as they came under pressure from the charging Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.

In fifth place and on a one-stop strategy, Russell urged the team to use Hamilton to protect him from Sainz, but Mercedes instructed Russell to move aside for his team-mate.

Russell then lost sixth place to Sainz, with Sky F1 commentator and Mercedes simulator driver Anthony Davidson among those accusing the team of making the wrong decision by ignoring Russell’s pleas.

Bird, Mercedes’ development driver between 2010 and 2013, has dismissed suggestions that the tension between Hamilton and Russell could pose a problem for Mercedes – insisting the team’s general lack of competitiveness at Suzuka should limit the damage.

Appearing on the BBC’s Chequered Flag podcast, he said: “It’s a seventh place instead of a sixth place [for Russell].

“If this was for the podium [it would be more intense], but the fact that it’s for a slightly lower position reduces the niggle that they might have.

“If that was for a win or for a podium – and they’ve missed out on a podium because of that – it’s a different kettle of fish. I think they should have done it earlier, but they’re racing drivers. They want to fight for every position.

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“You can’t tell me that George is going to just [say]: ‘Of course, Lewis, just cruise by me and then I’ll sit there.’

“You don’t have that train of thought all the time. It was different for Carlos Sainz in Singapore because he was leading. It’s different if you’re fighting with your team-mate.”

Mercedes qualified a second off the dominant Red Bull of Max Verstappen at Suzuka, with Hamilton and Russell seventh and eighth on the grid respectively.

The team remain without a victory since Russell’s Brazil 2022 triumph, with Hamilton’s last win occurring almost two years ago at the penultimate round of the 2021 season in Saudi Arabia.

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