Race Weekend Central

Slipstream Saturdays: George Russell & the Scintillating Situation of the Silver Arrows

In 2022, it felt like Lewis Hamilton was finally being dethroned as the number one in the hierarchy of Mercedes’ Formula 1 lineup.

George Russell‘s first full season at Mercedes ended with him being comfortably ahead of the seven-time champion. Russell finished higher in points and out-raced Hamilton 12-10, while also enjoying a Sprint win and a race win during Brazilian Grand Prix weekend – all feats Hamilton could not accomplish last year.

Hamilton did out-qualify Russell 12-10 and had one more podium. But Russell matching the then 37-year-old veteran at just 24-years-old seemed to indicate he would have the legs to have a breakout 2024 campaign.

That has decidedly not been the case. The Mercedes has been more-or-less the same competitively, compared to the rest of the grid, but you wouldn’t know that from Russell’s stat line.

The Briton enters the site of his greatest successes last year just eighth in points, with only one podium. Hamilton, meanwhile, is third in points and actively gunning for second against Sergio Perez.

Hamilton has won both the head-to-head battle by besting Russell in 13 races and clinched the qualifying battle on Friday (Nov. 3) in Brazil with his 12th triumph against Russell on the year. Hamilton has scored a pole and has six podiums on the season.

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Had these been 2022 results, this would be a much more understandable circumstance for Russell. After all, Hamilton had just came off a very controversial 2021 result where plenty will argue he should have been the champion, and was clearly always going to be the lead driver within the team as far as 2022 car development.

But instead, this regression is a huge question mark for Russell especially if he is the long-term team leader for Mercedes if Hamilton does decide to retire following the expiration of his current contract at the end of 2025.

The lowlight of the season was easily Singapore. The race where Red Bull dramatically missed the mark and lost their season-long winning streak seemed to be wide open. Mercedes took a superior tire strategy and was able to have both Russell and Hamilton running third and fourth respectively in the closing laps.

Both ran out of time to get by Lando Norris and eventual race winner Carlos Sainz. On the last lap, Russell took one final, desperate lunge on Norris and ended up in the tire barriers, throwing away a valuable podium.

Since that race, it’s been a bit of a mess for Russell. In Japan, he lost to Hamilton, finishing seventh to his teammate’s fifth.

In Qatar, both Mercedes made heavy contact with each other at the start of the race in a wreck largely being seen as a racing incident with Hamilton being given the blame if any were ascribed. Russell finished fourth and had very competitive pace in spite of the damage from the wreck, which might be more telling of the Mercedes speed that weekend than anything else.

On paper, Russell beat Hamilton at the United States Grand Prix. In reality, Hamilton finished on podium before it was taken away due to a technical infringement. Without both Hamilton and Charles Leclerc‘s disqualifications, Russell would have finished seventh while his teammate was on the podium.

Finally, in Mexico, Hamilton drove a very impressive race and stayed ahead of the Ferrari drivers in spite of a tire compound disadvantage to finish second, even scoring fastest lap on almost 40-lap-old medium tires on the final trip around the circuit. Russell, meanwhile, didn’t do much in the race and finished sixth, just barely ahead of Daniel Ricciardo‘s AlphaTauri in seventh.

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Now, this is not a sign that Russell’s career is over, nor is he in danger of losing that Mercedes seat right now. But it is very telling that Mercedes chose to only extend him to the end of 2025 instead of signing a much longer term contract with the team.

The Mercedes line for 2022 was that Hamilton ran much more experimental, aggressive setups in an attempt to find anything in the team’s no-sidepods car direction. Russell usually thus had his number with more reasonable setups designed around getting the most of what they knew of the car out of it. But the age gap and the hype around Russell with his accession into the Mercedes seat makes his under-performance after year one much worse. Everybody was expecting more of a Fernando Alonso/Nico Rosberg-esque performance out of him against Hamilton instead of a Valtteri Bottas-style performance.

If Mercedes can come to the track next year with a car that can contend for race wins, the under-performance of Russell is going to become much more apparent. One thing that he could do to change the tides a bit would be to have more faith in himself and the team. A lot of times this season, Russell has outright questioned the team’s decisions on the radio, and since Qatar he’s seemed a lot less willing to make aggressive overtakes.

Driver confidence is one of the most important aspects to any F1 team. Right now, one Mercedes driver has it and one does not. This will be a key off-season for Russell and one where he must get his confidence back in order to live up to his lofty expectations.

About the author

michaelfinley010

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021, and also formerly covered the SRX series from 2021-2023. He now covers the FIA Formula 1 World Championship, the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and road course events in the NASCAR Cup Series.

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