The Mercedes camp talk about the fights between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in F1 Japanese GP and the team orders call.
The F1 Japanese GP saw the Mercedes pair of Hamilton and Russell have a go at each other multiple times in a good show put up by them. The former carried some damage after the Lap 1 hit from Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, but he stuck to his guns despite the balance lack.
Russell first came at him on the main straight but Hamilton managed to hold him off. A wide moment at Degner 2 for the latter allowed the former to push him again until Hamilton decided to pit and let Russell through in the clean air.
Russell eventually switched to a one-stop strategy whereas Hamilton stayed on the two-stopper. This brought them together again with Russell trying to hold off Hamilton and chasing Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in the battle for fifth after Charles Leclerc stretched ahead.
Russell wanted to play the Sainz game by giving DRS to Hamilton to keep Sainz off but the Spaniard had a bit better pace and fresher tyres. Mercedes eventually stepped in to instruct Russell to give the position to Hamilton which he eventually did after some bickering.
Hamilton tried to give DRS to Russell but being on a one-stop didn’t help Russell as he lost to Sainz eventually. While the fight and strategy call raised some questions about friction, both the Mercedes F1 drivers played down any heat of the moment calls.
Russell tried a hard strategy with nothing to lose situation as Hamilton managed to beat one Ferrari in the end which was the end goal that Mercedes were planning after losing out to them in qualifying. Hamilton had the best scenario to do so and it happened that way.
Mercedes did not have Toto Wolff in Japan as he opted to miss the grand to undergo a surgery on his knee but he was active during the grand prix. Jerome D’Ambrosio filled in for him but it was Andrew Shovlin and communication head Bradley Lord who spoke to media.
Russell: “We’re in this together but just how the race panned out, my tyres we were toast by the end of that. But myself, I’ve got one goal which is finish P2 in the constructors’ championship for the team. Lewis has had a really consistent season this year, he’s in a battle for P3 in the drivers’ championship. Worst case, we lost two extra points there but we could have ended up with four points less, so when you take the averages the team made the right call. From my side, zero hard feelings. We’ve got to work on the car and we’re not going to get upset over a potential fifth and sixth loss versus a sixth and a seventh. I view it as good, hard racing. To be in the position to be putting him under pressure and making moves on him I was happy with, so I will take the positives from that.
“The pace of the car on my side I thought was really strong considering how difficult the car has been to drive this weekend. It’s just hard, fair racing. Of course, we lost a bit of overall time fighting with one another and again, you are a bit frustrated on the radio but that’s just part of racing. Both of us lost time to the cars around us [but] as I said, we’re not going to give the position up easily to one another. It was still early on in the race, I had more pace but he was the car who was ahead. As I said, it’s part of racing, we’re not even going to discuss it, there’s nothing to discuss. We’ve got bigger fish to fry which is how do we make our car go quicker. You use the radio as a bit of a release valve because it’s so hot in the car, it’s a long race, you’ve been pushing for an hour-and-a-half, you’re fighting every inch.”
Hamilton: “Honestly, I shouldn’t have really been in that position but I think I picked up a little something on the right-front and it just kept slipping the front-right [at the] last corner and turn nine. Then it wouldn’t turn through the hairpin, all weekend I’ve been good through the hairpin and then just I was turning and nothing was happening. So I definitely struggled on track with the balance. But it was a good battle, a little bit aggressive but it was what was needed to get position. I don’t think me holding up Sainz was a good idea at all to attempt it in the race. When they suggested it to me, I knew that they had obviously thought of it from the last race and it made no sense. I needed to get as far clear ahead as possible and I was on my way, I was around two seconds ahead, and they asked me then to give George DRS so I had to come off the gas down the straight to get him 0.8 behind.
“Then he got DRS, but then he got overtaken, which was going to happen because he was on a one stop and we were on a two. But then he got past him, and then he was right on my tail. So, not ideal. It made it very, very hard for the last couple of laps. We should have swapped ’round earlier and I should have got as far ahead as possible to keep the gap as big as we could to the Ferraris. I think if we had inverted, maybe George would have had a better time holding him behind maybe. But because he was trying to fight me and damaging his tyres then I think it just made it more complicated. The fact is we’re not fighting each other in the team championship, as the drivers it’s not important where we are. What’s important is that one of us finishes ahead of the Ferrari to keep the position, so today we really needed to work as a team. But I think as a team we’ve got to be grateful for fifth and seventh – it’s better than sixth and seventh.”
Andrew Shovlin: “When we decided to switch them, it was more when we saw how quick Carlos was coming in behind them, and that Lewis in the middle could have been at risk who was old tyres as well. Maybe it could have worked out better, but the thing is we were trying to protect against Lewis losing that position as well, as he was the one most likely to finish ahead of Carlos. When we were looking at Russell’s one stop earlier in the race, we were projecting some better upside that we could maybe do quite well, if the others weren’t able to overtake later on. At the point we were deciding to do it, it was actually looking like, ‘Do we try and get to the end where we have a chance of being ahead of Sainz?’
“Or do we stop, we’d drop behind Alonso, gotten through with new tyres, and you’re behind Sainz anyway. So whilst the odds of of holding back Sainz on the one-stop were relatively low, the reason that we committed to it was by virtue of the fact that there was nothing to lose. There was no risk to George on a one-stop from Alonso behind. So we stayed with it. But it was a difficult strategy to pull off and he did well to manage it. But the degradation was just a bit too high to make it competitive. And no, the fight between Lewis and George didn’t change the strategy Because in terms of what the team’s doing, we’re trying to score points against Ferrari, certainly in a race like this. Once we realised that we’re not challenging McLaren for a podium, we’re looking at what’s going on with Ferrari. We were trying to use the two cars effectively to give us those opportunities, and being able to get one of them was useful damage limitation given that they both started ahead of us in the race.”
Bradley Lord: “The way the race panned out from the start with the contact from Perez on Lewis, we lost positions and we were on the backfoot with the car their. It was always going to be very-very marginal making the strategies work and fighting the Ferraris and that gave us a bit more uphill task as well. From there, it was really recovery mode and that’s why we split the strategies knowing that as well there was potential for interaction and we may have to manage that on track later on in the stint as well. They are obviously both racing hard in a car that was tricky, pushing to the limit. And obviously there was some radio traffic as well, that reflected that. I think we have got into the habit over the years of not reading too much into what is said in the heat of the moment amid the pressure in the cockpit, particularly at a hot and demanding race like this one. Anything that needs tidying up or discussing afterwards, we’ll be able to take away from that pressure cooker and deal with it nice and calmly in the debrief.”
Here’s how F1 Japanese GP panned out