As George Russell and Lewis Hamilton lined up 1-2 on the Sao Paulo grid, Andrew Shovlin recalls they had seen other team-mate clashes and vowed they “wouldn’t do that to each other”.
After a season of harmonious racing, Russell and Hamilton working together to help Mercedes’ recovery, the team-mates found themselves racing one another for a victory for the first time at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
Russell, having won the Saturday sprint race, lined up on pole position with Hamilton making it an all-Mercedes front row after Carlos Sainz was demoted for an engine change penalty.
Lights out and Russell stayed ahead of Hamilton, the two cleanly through the first corners. Heading into the final stint and with Hamilton right on Russell’s rear wing after a Safety Car restart, the team-mates again kept it clean.
Mercedes made the call to allow the drivers to race, telling them they were “allowed” to with Hamilton pushing his 24-year-old team-mate all the way to the chequered flag, Russell taking the win – his maiden F1 victory – by 1.5s ahead of the seven-time World Champion.
It was a great day for Mercedes, Shovlin applauding the respect his drivers showed one another which was in sharp contrast to what transpired at Alpine just 24 hours earlier when Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon clashed not once but twice.
“We’ve got two drivers who all they want to do is race ultimately,” the Mercedes trackside engineering director told the F1 Nation podcast.
“But the reality is the worst thing, the thing that the two of them would absolutely hate, is if we said ‘1-2, back it off, bring the car home, don’t attack each other’.
“There’s a great deal of respect for them, between the two of them.
“We’ve seen some incidents in other teams, particularly in the sprint race, and ours looked at it and just said we wouldn’t do that to each other.
“So it’s nice when you’re in a position as a team when you can just let them go for it and have some fun.
“We’re looking forward to a lot more races where we’ll let the two of them race each other and try and get the win.”
That Sunday, though, was Mercedes’ only win of the season with Hamilton recording his first win-less season in his 16 years on the grid.
That Briton’s hopes in Brazil were dealt a blow early in the race when Max Verstappen hit him on the opening lap, Hamilton falling down to sixth place.
Although he put in a great recovery drive, he was naturally unhappy about missing out on the chance of a win.
Shovlin says that’s great.
“I’m really impressed with Lewis,” he said. “We want drivers who are going to be upset when they don’t win the race.
“If the team-mate wins and their second, you don’t want a driver who just takes on board and doesn’t feel a sort of pang of disappointment that they could have done more.
“I don’t think we could have asked for anything more from him. He’s done a great job.”
Mercedes finished the season third in the Constructors’ Championship while Russell became only the third team-mate in F1 to beat Hamilton, P4 to the 35-year-old’s P6.