Toto Wolff explains why Lewis Hamilton let George Russell pass in surprise Suzuka moment

Jamie Woodhouse
George Russell looks up while next to Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell.

Referring to the Japanese Grand Prix as “testing”, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff explained how this worked against Lewis Hamilton in the form of extreme tyre wear, leading to him voluntarily letting team-mate George Russell through.

Hamilton outqualified Russell for the first time this season at Suzuka, but when Russell came up behind him, Hamilton caught many by surprise in offering to let Russell through. It was an offer which he duly followed through on as the Mercedes drivers swapped positions.

Lewis Hamilton suffered in Mercedes ‘testing’ outing

The final result was far from ideal for Mercedes, Russell P7 and Hamilton P9, a reversal of where the drivers had qualified, but Wolff was looking at it in a positive light, surprisingly claiming Mercedes were treating that fourth round of the F1 2024 campaign as “testing”, which yielded positive results.

“The result is really bad. Qualifying and race same result. But it was testing at the moment,” Wolff told Channel 4.

“We’re in a position that we’re fourth in the championship and lots of room to the back and we are orientating ourselves forward and that’s why we need this mileage to understand.

“And this week it was really positive. We changed the car upside down on what we’re doing to it and we had some real performance.

“Suzuka last year was among our worst tracks. We were pretty close to the frontrunners in qualifying and then second and third stint today, the moment we decided it was a two-stop we were very competitive and the first stint was atrocious. So in summary, good learning, really bad on the final points table.”

As for why Hamilton was shockingly all too happy to yield to Russell, Wolff said experiments on Hamilton’s car had worsened front tyre wear and so he decided to be the ideal team player, at a time where Mercedes were just “testing” after all.

“There’s an easy explanation behind it,” Wolff began in reference to Hamilton’s yield. “Lewis again also we experimented on some things on his car and it looked like there was much worse degradation because of that on the front axle.

“And that’s why he said ‘I’m going to let him pass’, because it’s testing, like I say. And that was extremely fair play.

“It wasn’t like he was giving up a position for a podium, it was really trying to understand why wasn’t he fast at that stage and that was clearly because we were doing something to the car which we wanted to try.”

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Mercedes head into Round 5 in China sitting P4 in the Constructors’ standings, just one point ahead of Aston Martin, though Wolff would like to progress to fighting McLaren and Ferrari as the season goes on.

Ferrari are already 86 points up the road from Mercedes, while for McLaren their buffer over Mercedes stands at 35 points.

“We had a double DNF in the last race [Australia] and that’s not going to reflect well on the points,” said Wolff, “but I think our battle is with McLaren. Hopefully we can catch back up to Ferrari.

“And this is just a constant process now that I think we’ve turned the page I believe in how we analyse the car, how we develop it, how we’re setting it up. That is not reflected in the result this weekend, but definitely will be in the short-term future.”

Russell’s P5 at the first race in Bahrain remains Mercedes’ best result of the F1 2024 campaign so far.

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