Toto Wolff believes the ebbs and flows of battle between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell will continue on into 2024, but will be having conversations and delivering feedback anyway.
In the second year of the Hamilton/Russell pairing, it was the seven-time World Champion who came out on top of the intra-team rivalry as Hamilton finished 59 points clear of his young teammate.
With Hamilton scoring six podium finishes and briefly looking able to fight for the runner-up spot in the championship, Russell was left somewhat licking his wounds after scoring two podiums and self-professing his relief at finishing a “scrappy” season.
Toto Wolff: George Russell is a very strong character
Reflecting on the 2023 season in a chat with select media – including PlanetF1.com – Mercedes’ team boss Toto Wolff said he plans on a constructive chat with Russell in order to help with the mental reset for the new year.
“We will have a good conversation,” he said when asked how he plans on helping pick Russell back up after a more difficult season as Hamilton’s teammate.
“Everybody needs some feedback. He’s a very strong character, and he came out of the summer very strong.
“He changed his approach a little bit, and that was good, and then it swung the other way around and Lewis performed extraordinarily well.”
Both drivers missed out on some big results towards the end of the season, with Russell crashing out in Singapore while leading the Mercedes charge to the front as he piled pressure on Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz in the closing laps.
This crash resulted in a big points swing in Hamilton’s favour as he was promoted to third, although Russell clawed some of those lost points back a few weeks later when Hamilton was disqualified from second place in the United States due to excessive plank wear underneath his W14.
“I think these swings happen from track to track,” Wolff said.
“With these fragile cars, you can go from a very good weekend to a very bad one suddenly.”
But what personality type is Russell? Is he a ‘tough love’ type, or does he need the mental reassurance of an arm around the shoulder? Wolff explained that, in his experience, every sportsperson needs just that.
“Everybody needs an arm around the shoulder,” he said.
“I have my wife who puts an arm around my shoulder. Everybody needs an arm around them, all of the high performers.”
Russell himself recently spoke about the difficulties in going up against a formidable opponent like Lewis Hamilton in equal machinery, pointing to the performance level he’s managed to unlock in the face of such an imperious rival.
“I’ve been on Lewis’ level, on average, throughout this year,” said Russell in an interview with the Telegraph.
“And I’m not satisfied with just being on his level. I want to be ahead of him. But I’ve also got to be realistic.
“I’m going up against the greatest driver of all time. He’s definitely not a bad benchmark. And, you know, I think quali statistics, if you include sprint races, we’re exactly the same. And pace-wise, we’re generally the same as well.
“So there are positives. And to be honest, I’d prefer to be sat here without the results, but with the pace. Rather than saying ‘Oh, we lucked into a result here or we lucked into a result there’ when actually I was a tenth or two off the pace.”
With Russell overshadowed – although not thoroughly outclassed – by Hamilton in their second year together, how does the partnership of Hamilton/Russell stack up against the likes of Verstappen/Perez at Red Bull, Sainz/Leclerc at Ferrari, and or even Norris/Piastri at McLaren?
In Wolff’s eyes, there’s no driver duo stronger than his own.
“Yes. If we give them the right car, yes,” he said, when asked if he believes his driver pairing is the best available.
“I think there are a few others – Max, you cannot doubt him. He’s already one of the best drivers. If you give our two a great car, I think we’re right there.”