Toto Wolff admits Lewis Hamilton and George Russell’s dice at Zandvoort is when things became a bit too close for comfort between the two Mercedes drivers this season.
Hamilton and Russell were both in contention for victory in the closing stages of the Dutch Grand Prix, with Hamilton feeling aggrieved at having been left out on used tyres under Safety Car conditions, with Russell taking a punt on stopping for fresh rubber.
This left a big performance difference between the two team-mates as the race got going again, but without team orders in play, the two Mercedes drivers almost collided on the pit straight as Hamilton defended his position.
Russell eventually made his way past – not without a fight from the seven-time World Champion – but this marked the first time the Mercedes pair had been in full combat in race conditions in their partnership so far.
Mercedes team principal Wolff said there is a great deal of mutual respect between the two, with Hamilton acting as a mentor for Russell while still competing against him, and the younger Brit learning from the sport’s most statistically successful driver.
The team’s CEO admitted it got a little tight between the drivers in the Netherlands, but expects their in-team relationship to keep developing as time passes, particularly as they look to fight at the front again.
Singapore 👉 Suzuka. It’s been too long since our last trip to Japan. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/ancxRdv1Xr
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) October 4, 2022
Discussing how he will manage Hamilton and Russell’s dynamic in the future, Wolff told Channel 4: “Well, they need to find the relationship on track also because they haven’t had close racing between themselves.
“And I said after Zandvoort, for my feeling, that was a little bit too close. [It] could have gone wrong, but they know – they are experts.
“I think how I would describe the relationship is with respect. The respect of the rookie that acknowledges his team-mate is the greatest driver of all time with Michael [Schumacher], and the respect of Lewis who sees himself in a way in terms of talent and age growing up, in a way.
“As weird as it sounds, because your team-mate is your first enemy, Lewis mentors George also in a way.
“And George accepts that role of a young lion while still having the ambition, both of them, the ambition to beat the team-mate and then win races and championships, and I think that dynamic works very well together.”
Russell leads Hamilton by 33 points in the Drivers’ Championship heading into the final five races of the season, with Mercedes losing significant ground to Ferrari in the fight for P2 in the Constructors’ standings – now 66 points behind the Scuderia heading to Suzuka this weekend.