Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Istanbul Park, 2020

Why Russell’s Mercedes debut could hit Hamilton in the pocket

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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George Russell has been handed a massive opportunity by taking over Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes for this weekend’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

Having traded one of the slowest cars in F1 this year for the quickest, Russell duly headed both of yesterday’s practice sessions.

Russell’s chance has been widely interpreted as a threat to Valtteri Bottas’s position, for obvious reasons. As Hamilton’s team mate of the past four seasons, Bottas is expected to show Russell the way this weekend. Anything less than a win for him on Sunday will be interpreted as a failure.

Mercedes have publicly indicated Bottas can rest easy in the knowledge that his position at the team for next year is not under threat. “We know that we race next year with Lewis and Valtteri,” team principal Toto Wolff insisted in yesterday’s FIA press conference.

George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020
Russell has impressed in Hamilton’s car
But while Bottas has already signed on the line for the 2021 F1 season, Hamilton’s deal is not yet done. And, Wolff admitted, his Covid-19 diagnosis early in the week is only going to further delay negotiations which had already been pushed beyond the final race of the season.

“The timeline is being pushed back until he recovers,” said Wolff. “We know that we need to get it done, we’re pretty well aware both of us. But the priority now is him getting back on his feet and being back negative. And then we will meet, or Zoom, in order to put pen to paper.”

In the meantime Hamilton has to sit back and watch Russell drive his car for this weekend and quite possibly next weekend as well. (Although, as Wolff also indicated, Hamilton may not bother tuning in: “He has better things to do than watching a first practice session.”)

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What Russell can do with the fastest car on the grid should be of obvious interest to Hamilton. He doesn’t even need to beat Bottas to impress Mercedes. He’s switched to a different and much larger team, at very short notice; he’s driving a car he’s never sat in before with a three-year-old seat and is wearing boots one size too small for his feet in order to cram into a footwell designed for Hamilton. Mercedes will take all this into consideration when evaluating his performance.

Horner expects Wolff to use Russell’s debut in negotiations
Wolff’s opposite number at Red Bull, Christian Horner, is certain Mercedes will use the opportunity not only to draw conclusions over Russell’s performance compared to Bottas – but also compared to Hamilton.

“It’s an enormous opportunity for him and one that I’m sure that he’s looking to make great use of,” said Horner. “It benchmarks him against Valtteri.

“I’m sure Toto’s looking to use it to perhaps negotiate Lewis’s contract in some way, shape or form.”

Horner, the longest-serving team principal in Formula 1 today, who has had stars like Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen on his books, knows the reality of how these deals are done.

Hamilton is a giga-star whose name is know far beyond Formula 1 as well as the most successful driver in its history. His value to Mercedes goes far beyond his ability to drive a car quickly.

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The idea Russell could take is 2021 seat is not realistic. But Hamilton’s raw speed is part of his value. If Russell can readily prove Mercedes have another driver at hand who could be just as fast, as Horner indicates, that gives Wolff a lever to pull in his upcoming contract negotiation to lower Hamilton’s price.

Drivers, Circuit de Catalunya, 2020
F1 drivers salaries 2020
Even if that does come to pass, the next deal for the sport’s biggest earner is likely to be eye-watering. At 35 years old, and openly talking about only racing for a few more seasons, this could be the last big payday of Hamilton’s career. Even if he does race on into his forties, it is likely to be his last deal before restrictions on how much teams can pay their drivers come into force.

Naturally, Wolff denied any linkage between Hamilton’s contract and Russell’s role as his substitute when asked by RaceFans yesterday. “We’ve discussed having George in the car. We know what we have with Lewis and he knows what he has with the team.

“Such a situation would never be utilised as some kind of bargaining power, neither by him, nor by us – it could do both directions. I respect very much who he is, how he drives, his records, and whatever happens this week or next has no influence on our talks.”

Wolff was also eager to cool the hype which greeted Russell’s session-topping time at the start of practice yesterday. “We need to calm everybody down because it was a first session on a new and short circuit,” he said.

But what if Russell produces the goods over the next two days, and possibly next weekend? Wolff’s characterisation of his performance will surely be rather more enthusiastic when he and Hamilton finally meet over Zoom, pizza and red wine to discuss how much Mercedes will pay the world’s best and most famous racing driver.

Quotes: Dieter Rencken

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2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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61 comments on “Why Russell’s Mercedes debut could hit Hamilton in the pocket”

  1. If Russell wins, the king is naked.

    1. GS (@gsagostinho)
      5th December 2020, 13:05


    2. Exactly. There are a number of drivers you could put in the car for a guaranteed WC.

      1. Not if they are racing against Lewis in the other car.

        1. petebaldwin (@)
          5th December 2020, 14:02

          @deanr True but that’s the whole point… If you have Bottas and Russell, you still win both championships but you don’t need to pay for Lewis. You don’t have to beat Lewis in the other car unless you pay to have Lewis in the other car….

          1. Ok but Lewis offers Merc more than Just being the most successful driver of all time. He fits the current wave of progressiveness (if that’s even a word?) sweeping the planet, he brings in sponsorship, he is the only “star” on the grid, he is damn fast, his racing intelligence is on another level and on a difficult day… he is the man you want in your car, he makes the difference 9 times out of ten when the pressure is on and makes very few mistakes. Georg Russell, as much as I am rooting for him, won’t give you all that and neither would any other driver on the grid.

          2. Let’s do an interesting thought experiment here @petebaldwin: How would Mercedes with a lineup of Bottas/Russell do against Red Bull with Verstappen/Hamilton?

          3. petebaldwin (@)
            5th December 2020, 16:04

            I don’t know… I’d love to find out! Imagine how exciting the series would be with Lewis and Verstappen in a team fighting to beat a faster car…. If was to guess, I still think Mercedes would win but it would be a close fight.

            Also Dean, I totally agree. Lewis is worth much more to the team than just his pace. It’s for Mercedes to judge if they’re trying to cut costs – does the extra stuff make up for the extra money they have to pay out…

          4. Thought experiment

            Imagine Hamilton taking Albon’s seat at Redbull. Hamilton & Max, with more effort by redbull to taylor the car to Hamilton’s specification… The car would improve for sure, and Redbull would be an even greater threat to Mercedes.

            Im sure Mercedes wouldn’t create the situation which allows this ‘experiment’ to play out… besides which im sure Russell has a few more rookie mistakes in him yet..

          5. Yes, would be so nice to have hamilton and vers at red bull vs russel and bottas at merc, I think it would be indeed a challenge at first, but if russel emerges as a verstappen-hamilton-leclerc-like driver then he will run away with the title ofc.

    3. lexusreliability?
      5th December 2020, 14:31

      Really? I don’t think one race (or a couple if Russell is driving next weekend) can be enough to make some sort of revisionist analysis of what Hamilton has achieved. But, it won’t stop the anti Hamilton brigade from clutching at straws.

    4. Let’s face it, Hamilton needs more mercedes than Mercedes needs Hamilton to be WDC champions next year !

  2. Just to keep this short and sweet: conversely, if Verstappen wins this race (and maybe the next) Hamilton’s negotiating strength will sky rocket.

    1. Suddenly I am pinning for a Vestappen’s win then..

  3. Can anybody explain why he’s having to squeeze into a pair of boots that are a size too small for him Sponsorship requirements? Seems a bit mean to make him suffer and not let him use the pair he’s left in the Williams garage!


    1. His proper shoes are likely rubbing/catching on something in the footwell.

    2. “and is wearing boots one size too small for his feet in order to cram into a footwell designed for Hamilton”

    3. Lewis has small feet so the cockpit is a but too small for George.

      1. Actually Lewis has big, clown feet for his height. George’s own is that much bigger.

    4. I’m guessing (since I don’t know) that Lewis’s car was specifically built for him, meaning the placement of the foot pedals, and size of the foot well, position of the steering wheel, etc was specific to what Lewis required for comfort. Similarly I expect the same for Valtteri’s car, in that it would be built for Valtteri. When George goes to sit in Lewis’s car the placement of the pedals, size of the foot well, steering wheel position, etc, aren’t exactly right for him, and that maybe new parts would have to be made to make the car comfortable for George.

  4. This is not the track to draw this kind of comparisons. Its almost an oval and it doesn’t show the driver ability. If Russel was racing with MB in some of the previous events in Europe then it would have been a serious story but completely irrelevant now.

    1. Do you know what an oval is?

      1. You know what i mean, 54 sec track is not a normal f1 track that needs a driver with huge abilities it a track that will show his talent. Even the curbs are not exist in there and you can exit with no consequences.

        1. I absolutely don’t agree. Why on earth should a short lap be less challenging? In fact, with the ‘new’ portion being rarely used it looked quite a handful yesterday.

    2. RocketTankski
      5th December 2020, 16:49

      Does this mean that Alonso has no real ability because he failed to even qualify on an oval track at Indy? ;-)

      1. No, he had a crap car. And maybe he isn’t well-suited for Indy Car, either.

  5. Pedal spacing too narrow?

  6. “I’m sure Toto’s looking to use it to perhaps negotiate Lewis’s contract in some way, shape or form.”

    Regardless of Russell’s performance, I would hope not, in respect that this whole situation has come about from Lewis contracting Covid 19. Would be a bit scummy to say the least.

    1. Toto has completely refuted this stating neither party would even think that way.

      It really shows the difference not only in driver management but overall just why Mercedes are far and away a championship team of the new era as opposed to the “old school” Williams way of doing things.

      And people wonder how this team have been champions year on year?

      They value people.

      The rest is just furniture – it’s that simple

      1. Well said @drgraham, I think this is a bit of Horner trying to stir up stuff just a bit, because that’s as much as he is able to affect Mercedes+Hamilton.

        Russell is showing as being clearly talented, but as FP3 shows, it’s not always easy to put it down, and we are still to see how well he delivers (which he hasn’t been able to definitely do at Williams, w. no points) on Sunday.

        But that’s nothing to Hamilton having 7 WCD’s, and the negotiation was denied to even be about the Money as Merc. knows what he’s worth to them (probably more about how freedom HAM can have, maybe about him wanting less travel as he said). Mercedes has been doing this for 8 years now by indeed caring about their staff, trying to give them a good place so they can give the best to the team, they aren’t going to change that for a few million.

  7. Of course! Mr gob * * * * * speaks.
    Christian H is one of the most tiresome, pot stirring, butter wouldn’t melt fools ever seen in F1 circles. Bore off Christian.

    1. The only thing I can’t stand of horner is his incredible support towards albon; get someone from outside the red bull academy, like perez!

  8. when he and Hamilton finally meet over Zoom, pizza and red wine to discuss how much Mercedes will pay the world’s best and most famous racing driver.

    Not gonna lie, Zoom, pizza and red wine sounds great. Of course, it’s gonna be a contract talk, so maybe not.

    1. RocketTankski
      5th December 2020, 16:55

      Perhaps a case of “Wine me, dine me, £69million me” for Lewis then?

  9. Christian does love to stir the pot. There is also a flip side to his point, which is if Max were to win this race and maybe even the next one, Lewis would have a stronger negotiating position.

    Regardless, I doubt Russell’s performance will dictate Hamilton’s contract negotiation. If anything, it’s more likely to accelerate the discarding of Bottas (if Russell does well).

  10. Christian Horner is just…a chore. He’s something you inflict on people so they’d suffer.

  11. I am still of the view that if Hamilton’s next contract was as straightforward as Mercedes are publicly insisting, it would have been done in the summer. Being without a contract less than four weeks before the old one is due to expire is not normal, in F1 terms.

    1. I don’t buy the short negotiations with pizza and wine thing. That is most likely a great oversimplification. Something like they already knew the dollar amount Mercedes would agree to, and The rest was smaller details about each party’s obligations.

      And if it was true, perhaps Mercedes would be unwilling to let Wolf handle the negotiations again

    2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      5th December 2020, 15:39

      @red-andy Exactly what part of what Mercedes, Toto and Lewis are doing is normal? They are breaking new ground race by race. Imagine being in such a strong position you almost don’t need a contract except for legal reasons!

    3. Robert Anderson
      6th December 2020, 4:32

      Highly unusual yes but not without precedent, at one point Senna was driving on a race to race basis for McLaren with him waiting to see $1 million put into his bank account before flying out to the race meeting

  12. I’m skeptical anything Russell does changes much. Hopefully he already has Bottas’s seat in 2022.

    I doubt Mercedes would discard Hamilton before next season. It should be record-breaking with lots and lots of great publicity for Mercedes. The dominance of the Mercedes is unlikely to change much, and with Bottas as his teammate 2021 should be a straightforward campaign.

    But I agree with @red-andy it is suspicious this is taking so long. My hunch is the big questions are around the team in its future, not Hamilton’s salary or demands. But it certainly seems true that having a great alternative driver could be useful during negotiations.

    We’ll have to see how this plays out. It will be something interesting to watch during the off-season

    1. Discard?

      The seven time champion and by far the statistically best guy that ever stepped a an F1 car?

      Regardless of GRs performance this weekend, it’s against a backdrop of a Bottas who just wants the year to end and an absolute domination by his team mate of one of the most difficult years the series has faced.

      I know all the fans of “other” would just love LH to vanish from the grid under any possible circumstances to allow their guy to get on with being what his fans already think he is but ‘discard’?

      Bit harsh

      Perhaps said other chaps should step up and try and beat him sometime…


  13. John (@johnnyslimane)
    5th December 2020, 13:58

    “Hamilton is a giga-star whose name is know far beyond Formula 1”

    I’m not so sure about this, at least not in the US. Maybe this is just an accidote, but while participating in a trivia night at the beginning of 2020 one of the questions was which F1 driver has six world championships. Out of the ±15 teams that night, my team was the only one to get it right. Several teams guessed Schumacher. Some said Senna. But no one else said Hamilton.

    1. You have one example and all of a sudden you know how America sees Hamilton. That was a rubbish example.

      I think most people recognize his face and he has huge appeal on American late night shows (like the TV stuff he did after winning the championship)

      No one could probably name another driver on the grid today. Even if you told them their name they still wouldn’t know.

      I’m a fan of LH. I don’t think he has the same star power as MS but they both exist in another league compared to anyone else that’s ever being in the sport. So Mercedes needs to just pay the man.

      1. Robert Anderson
        6th December 2020, 4:44

        I disagree, it’s as valid an example as any other, and reflects the fact that F1 simply isn’t as well known in the US as they’re own indigious racing series. But similarly here in the UK a typical Brit has more of an awareness of F1 than NASCAR or Indy cars. I would contend that has been the case since Mansell was winning The CART series (is that right?)

    2. Dave (@davewillisporter)
      5th December 2020, 15:36

      @johnnyslimane Ok, your trivia night teams vs the bookers for Ellen, The Late Show with Steven Colbert, The Daily Show, James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Graham Bensinger, Good Morning America, oh and 60 Minutes!
      Lewis Hamilton has an IMDB page that would make some actors feel jealous.
      I think he’s fairly well known.

  14. I look Wolff and Lewis as one package. No matter how much salary Lewis asked, Toto will support. Just like Lewis keep telling the world that Merc need Toto.

    So no, even if George win two races in the row Merc won’t change their best principal and driver they had, as I also suspect only Toto who can keep Petronas even when the Malaysian oil company is not in a good shape.

  15. Perhaps that’s because there has only been a six time champion for such a short space of time?

    I mean it’s seven now…

  16. Stirring the pot.
    One weekend isn’t a campaign. I’d rather have Hamilton in my car than out of it. He will be there next year or however long he wants to keep racing.

    1. @icarby Or pitching for Hamilton to join Verstappen at Red Bull? :O)

  17. And how good is Russell at developing a car? People seem to forget that a driver’s role consists of more than just driving.

  18. Forget it. Russel is good. But not that good.

  19. I often equate Mercedes with the Patriots of the NFL – in terms of dominance over a long period of time, led by a very good management structure. The ORGANIZATION was what really made it so strong.

    They had a great system in place and could afford to lose some “top” players and would do so willingly because they knew they could just plug someone else into the system for less money and make it work. And it did work. Even when Brady got hurt a few times, some other QBs could come in and do well.

    Point is, it does make sense to run an ORGANIZATION that way. Only pay for the talent you absolutely need, and make your primary focus on the TEAM.

    Therefore, if you’re Mercedes, why on God’s green earth would you want to pay Hamilton money when it’s the CAR that is the champion? Everyone has said this, it’s overwhelmingly obvious. It makes no sense. If Russell does well, let alone wins, it should be a no-brainer.

    1. @apollo16rs, the CAR wasn’t managing it’s own tires now was it? The CAR doesn’t tell the engineers what’s right or wrong with it’s handling, braking etc when on the track. The CAR doesn’t decided to override the engineer’s call to pit and stay out on used but functional tires. Clearly you think the driver is dead weight that’s just along for the ride.

      Additionally, why would Merc redesign their car for 2021 to accommodate the larger Russell? Steve Matchett used to say, if something on an F1 car changes, everything behind it needs to be redesigned. As they would have to modify the cockpit for the larger Russell, that would mean close to 75% of the car would have to be reviewed at minimum if not modified. Why take that on and risk getting something wrong when the entire car is being redesigned for 2022 anyway?

      1. Clearly you think the driver is dead weight that’s just along for the ride.

        Reviewing my post, I don’t think I said anything about ‘dead weight.’ I don’t know that Latifi, for example, could win in the Merc.

        But the inarguable fact is this: a guy in his second year in F1 missed out on pole by what, .026s or something, plopped into the car in a substitute role, coming from the worst (one of at least) cars into the very best. And you’re correct, he doesn’t seem to ‘fit’ the car real well, looks almost like Shaq driving a Miata. But just like that, Russell is right there, easily up there with a guy with what, 15 some odd seasons under his belt? Will all that experience he SHOULD be able to win every race in what is clearly the fastest car. You don’t think anyone else in the whole wide world could ‘develop the car?’

        Q “Hey, we have the most money and best infrastructure. How is the car?”

        A “Uh, let’s make it faster.”

        You all that love Lewis are gonna love him no matter what he says or does, and certainly regardless of what any other subjective opinion might be, so I get it. But there are many other drivers, not saying just any ‘dead weight,’ but many other drivers who, hypothetically of course, could and would have achieved the same results if not better, given the opportunities Lewis has been handed.

        Max would crush him into dust in that car, and Leclair is quickly proving he belongs in that discussion as well, what a lap he put in today. As this will never happen, (Max/Leclair in the same car as Lewis) it’s a debate which will never end.

        I respect your opinion, simply stating my own.

        1. @apollo16rs I hear what you’re saying, but the thing is Hamilton was hand picked/head hunted to join Mercedes, he is part of the team the family the success. Could have another driver accomplished what Hamilton did? possibly but the speculation is pointless as we’ll never know; I’m not referring to just winning once or twice I mean constantly winning and it requiring circumstances outside of your control to take something away from you. Hamilton has pretty much overcome everything you can throw at him and is quite rightly and deservingly indispensable.

          Eventually he will either leave or get beaten by a younger driver, Russell is expected to be the future of Mercedes and has also benefited from learning from Hamilton whilst as a reserve driver.

          Is anyone ready to replace Hamilton now? For me it’s a firm no. Simply because even when Hamilton isn’t in the fastest car on race day, not that it happens often if at all, he’s proved to be still Incredibly difficult to beat.

    2. So remind us again how much Ham cost Mercedes after you subtract the money Hamilton brings to MercedesF1 in sponsors and how much Mercedes value the PR Hamilton generates for them. And perhaps knowing that a LH44 motorbike sells out a limited $5 million run and a LH influenced IWC watch generates $4.6 million in sales; what Ham generates in revenue for Mercedes?

      That’s assuming the driver has no input into the car; despite Wolff, Bono, Allison, etc. saying differently.

  20. Do you need Lewis in the car

    ‘Of course you do. Because he will make the difference during the most crucial moments. That’s why he is a seven times World Champion.’ Max Verstappen 5/12/2020.

  21. Horner has jokes. Nice trolling.

  22. Ridiculous! I personally would never pair red wine with pizza.

  23. I find it strange the way Wolff is eager to show he is a total rollover when it comes to a new deal with Hamilton when it’s obviously not in the interest of his company and the one who employs him

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