Sky Sports F1 pundit Karun Chandhok believes Lewis Hamilton “stepped up” to the challenge of fighting George Russell at Mercedes in 2023.
The former Lotus and Hispania driver explained that, coupled with something of a step back in some areas for Russell, “a bit of the real Lewis Hamilton” emerged after fighting through the “hangover” of the end of the 2021 season.
Russell stepped up to Mercedes after three seasons with Williams and out-scored his seven-time World Champion team-mate in their first year together, but Hamilton comfortably got the better of him this time around in the Drivers’ standings.
Chandhok: ‘A bit of the real Lewis Hamilton stepped up this year’
Russell himself admitted to 2023 being a “scrappy” season by his standards, finishing behind Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship despite an even qualifying record, with two podiums compared to six for his team-mate.
Chandhok pointed to two moments for the younger Briton which highlighted Russell’s weaknesses in the season, with there still being a way to go for him to improve.
But in spite of that, he also had to deal with Hamilton, in a clearer headspace after arriving in 2022 following the controversy that came before in 2021.
“I think it was, in some ways,” Chandhok explained on the Sky Sports F1 podcast when asked if 2023 was something of a ‘step back’ for Russell compared to 2022, when discussing their top 10 drivers of the season.
“He’s got 100 fewer points than he got in 2022, only pulled two podiums this year, so it was a step back by his own admission.
“I think there were also two fairly costly errors. Canada, he was running fourth or fifth when he hit the wall coming out of the chicane and then later, they retired the car, and obviously, Singapore is the more high-profile one where he was running third.
“So, that was a healthy haul of points and two possible podiums even that went away. Certainly one of them.
“So I think that was disappointing, but he bounced back a bit towards the end of the year.
“The qualifying gap between [Russell and Hamilton] was the closest it’s been across the entire field, across all 10 teams.
“They were only 20 hundredths of a second apart throughout the season, 15-13 in George’s favour actually, in terms of the results [including Sprint Shootouts], but it basically evenly matched in quali.
“I think in some ways, there was a bit of the real Lewis Hamilton stepped up a bit this year. I think last year, in the early part of the season, perhaps a little bit of a hangover from Abu Dhabi 2021, a bit frustrated that he arrived into this new era of cars and the car wasn’t there capable of fighting for the championship.
“You can’t blame Lewis necessarily for that, for not necessarily having that hunger last year. He’d been through a fairly emotionally traumatic winter I imagine, and then he realised he doesn’t have the chance to reverse it in ’22 – and George arrived bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and made use of it last year.
“And this year, I think Lewis stepped it up. George has had some great results towards the end of the season.
“You have to say, in the last two weekends he outperformed Lewis didn’t he, I think in Vegas and Abu Dhabi. I thought it was fine for George, not as good as last year, but still enough to warrant a place in the top 10.”