Drawing the pit wall into their Suzuka battle, former Bridgestone engineer Kees van der Grint reckons George Russell and Lewis Hamilton’s radio messages are a “sign of weakness” as they’re asking for help.
The Mercedes team-mates had a few notable incidents during the Japanese Grand Prix when Russell briefly overtook Hamilton into the chicane at the end of lap five only for Hamilton to repass him down the straight.
Hamilton later had a moment out of Degner 2 that saw the seven-time World Champion run wide allowing Russell to close up on his rear wing and have a look around the outside at Spoon.
Mercedes team-mates ‘calling on others for help’
Hamilton ran wide, forcing Russell even further off the track with the former Williams driver asking over the radio: “Who do we want to fight here? Each other or the others?”
They were again at it late in the race as Hamilton, on a two-stop strategy and with Carlos Sainz chasing him down, closed in on the one-stopping Russell. He wanted Russell to let him through, and told Mercedes: “We’re going to lose both of these positions.”
Mercedes gave the order with Hamilton crossing the line in fifth place while Russell lost out to Sainz and finished P7.
The fraught radio traffic has been one of the hot topics of discussion since Suzuka with Viaplay analyst Ernest Knoors declaring the drivers were trying to “bend” Mercedes to their will.
“It was initially self-evident that Hamilton was number one within the team, but Russell is currently doing very well,” Motorsport quotes Knoors as having told In de Slipstream. “That’s why the fights become a bit harder.
“There are fights on the track from both sides and there are also a lot of mental games involved.
“All the messages to the engineers about ‘are we fighting each other?’, those are all things to try to bend the team to your will, or at least try to bend the race strategy to your will.”
His fellow Viaply pundit Van der Grint responded to that, saying: “It’s actually a sign of weakness.”
Knoors agrees. “They are calling on others for help,” he said.
Lewis Hamilton tipped to be the one to cause the Mercedes crash
The Mercedes team-mates avoided contact in Japan but it could be just a matter of time before one or the other causes a race-ending accident.
So which of the two is the most likely to do that?
“I rather think that Hamilton will cause an accident because Russell is hard to pass,” said Van der Grint. “He doesn’t move aside. Then Hamilton will give him a push out of frustration.”
Mercedes’ communication chief Bradley Lord downplayed the radio chatter, saying: “They were obviously both racing hard in a car that was tricky, pushing to the limit. There was obviously some radio traffic as well that reflected that.
“But I think we’ve got into the habit over the years of not reading too much into what’s said in the heat of the moment and the pressure of the cockpit, particularly at a hot and demanding race like this one.
“Anything that needs tidying up or discussing afterward, we’ll be able to do away from that pressure cooker nice and calmly in the debrief.”
Having lost to Russell in last year’s championship, this season Hamilton is the one recording the better results to sit P3 in the Drivers’ standings with Russell eighth.