George Russell claimed his maiden F1 victory at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix as Mercedes sealed a one-two at Interlagos; the Silver Arrows improved late-season form has lifted hope that they can challenge Red Bull for the drivers’ and constructors’ championships in 2023
Last Updated: 15/11/22 6:06am
Lewis Hamilton says he is confident that he and team-mate George Russell will be able to maintain a strong working relationship next season, even if Mercedes are back in title contention.
Russell, 24, has impressed in his debut season with Mercedes, claiming his maiden Grand Prix victory – and the team’s first of the 2022 season – in Sao Paulo on Sunday to move 25 points clear of seven-time world champion Hamilton in the world championship with just the season finale in Abu Dhabi remaining.
However, the fact that Mercedes have rarely been in contention for race victories and have spent much of the campaign working to close the gap to constructors’ champions Red Bull, has ensured a lack of tension and the avoidance of contentious situations for team principal Toto Wolff to deal with.
“I’m a lot older and I’ve been with the team so long,” Hamilton said before finishing second to Russell in Brazil.
“So managing whatever challenges we come up with moving forward, we’ve been through so much that I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”
Hamilton also said that Russell’s debut campaign with the team has been “impressive”, but that it was “super easy” for him to blend in having long been a part of the Mercedes setup, even during his three seasons with Williams.
Unless he wins in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton will end a season without a victory for the first time in his F1 career.
“I’ve seen what he did at Williams,” Hamilton said. “I think naturally you have to say it’s impressive what he’s done this year, the consistency he’s had, how he’s arrived and just hit the ground running.
“It’s not like he arrived in a completely brand new team. The previous couple of years he was sitting right behind me watching the work that I was doing with the engineers, with Ricky (who), who is now his number one.
“It’s been super easy to blend in. He uses my steering wheel, and he’s obviously got to do the test days prior to the year, so I think he’s just blended in perfectly and he’s been a positive force in the team.
“He’s helped keep the equilibrium in the team, in terms of the working relationship I think it’s strong.”
Russell on Merc learning process | Wolff: They are both alphas
Russell, who also won the Sprint at Interlagos on Saturday, remains confident that he still has plenty of room for improvement.
The former F2 champion says he spent the early stages of the 2022 season adjusting to the relative scale of Mercedes’ operation.
“In some ways I’ve felt like a bit of a rookie this year because the level at which this team operates on is a level that I’ve never experienced before, and I’m talking about things that I’d never even heard of in F1 before,” Russell said.
“That took me some time to learn and understand how to get the most out of the team, out of the car.
“The capability within this team is huge and the potential is huge, and learning to use all the resources at our disposal to bring more performance, is a lot more than I’ve ever been used to and it took me a little bit of a while to wrap my head around that.”
Speaking after his team’s one-two in Sao Paulo, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff insisted he is happy at the prospect of having two competitive drivers competing for victories, as opposed to having a “puppy” in the team.
“They are both alpha drivers and this is good,” Wolff said.
“We don’t want a puppy in the car. We manage that as well as we can.”
Button: Mercedes team-mates ‘very respectful’
Former F1 champion Jenson Button believes a mutual respect has made Russell and Hamilton an ideal pairing at Mercedes.
“I think obviously Lewis doesn’t want George beating him because Lewis wants to win every race as a racing driver,” said Button on Any Driven Monday.
“But for Lewis, five years earlier if George came into the team we’d see a different Lewis Hamilton in terms of his views on his team-mate and opinions on him.
“Lewis is such a rounded character now in terms of the way he goes racing. He’s had so much success in the sport, and yeah he probably won’t be racing for so many years so he’s probably thinking ‘this guy is basically as good as it gets for people in their 20s right now, I’m in my late 30s and still able to fight him or beat him’.
“I think Lewis is very comfortable in himself, I think it’s a really good driver pairing.
“They’re both very respectful and that’s the first thing you need, to be respectful and to be telling the truth in terms of set up, being open with your opinions and that’s the only way they’re going to work together and build as a team.”