Hamilton reasserts himself over Russell as Mercedes change direction with W14

2023 F1 team mate battles

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Soon after launching their new car for the 2023 season Mercedes realised they’d made a mistake by sticking with the concept behind last year’s car.

But as early as the sixth round of the season in Monaco the team had a drastic update ready for their W14, removing the distinctive ‘zero’ side pods and replacing them with a more conventional arrangement. A further iteration of that concept arrived at the final race before the summer break at Spa-Francorchamps.

While both of the team’s drivers seemed satisfied with the direction of their development, one of them appeared to respond especially well to the modified W14. In the early races Lewis Hamilton admitted he lacked confidence in the car’s handling and as Mercedes have improved the W14, Hamilton has got more from it than his team mate.

George Russell proved an excellent benchmark for Hamilton last year, out-scoring him over the season, even if Hamilton showed slightly more potential in the unloved W13 and bore the brunt of Mercedes’ efforts to knock it into shape early in the season. However over the first five races of 2023 Russell underlined his potential and set the standard within the team more often than not.

George Russell, Mercedes, Albert Park, 2023
Russell led but retired in Australia
He qualified strongly in Jeddah and outran Hamilton after the Safety Car. In Melbourne he produced an especially strong drive, taking the lead early on before unreliability ruined his day. In Azerbaijan Russell took the fight to Verstappen in the sprint race – much to the Red Bull driver’s displeasure – and led Hamilton in Miami as well.

But since the new sidepods arrived for the W14 in Monaco, Hamilton has appeared reinvigorated and often been the quicker of the two – his SQ1 slip-up in Austria a notable exception. Hamilton claimed podium finishes in Spain and Canada, and rode his luck for another at home in Silverstone. An inspired lap in qualifying at the Hungaroring produced Hamilton’s first pole position for more than a year and a half.

Now Russell is the driver looking to rediscover his form with the latest Mercedes. However the rain affected sprint race weekend at Spa gave the team little opportunity to extract the most from its latest upgrade, and both drivers ran markedly different downforce levels. When the season resumes we will watch with interest to discover whether the latest iteration of the W14 suits Russell better and swings the pendulum between the two drivers once again.

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Unrepresentative comparisons omitted. Negative value: Hamilton was faster; Positive value: Russell was faster

2023 F1 season

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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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43 comments on “Hamilton reasserts himself over Russell as Mercedes change direction with W14”

  1. This article does not provide all the facts and is poor journalism. The left out fact is that last year Lewis was basically the driver who tested the cars setups etc. While russel was allowed to optimize the car to his liking. This is a very important fact to leave out. The lack of it flatters russels results.

    1. It’s there in the article, however briefly

      1. I stand corrected and you are correct that very brief explanation does nothing or very little to highlight the reasons for the difference in points. Which is why I did not even see it at first. Thanks for showing me its there tho.

    2. I would actually say Russell has been better in 2023 than he was in 2022. In 2022 a lot of his victories against LH came on back of fortunate circumstance for him or unfortunate circumstance for Lewis. There were very few beatings of LH on merit. If anything in 2023 the oposite has been tre with Lewis benefitng from fortune more than his team mate.

  2. Jeffrey Powell
    10th August 2023, 10:47

    If Russell could dominate Lewis by say 3-4 tenths in qualifying ,which is highly unlikely, we would at last have a driver to match and beat Max. who wasn’t nearing the end of their career. Red Bull really need to get a number two that can take the fight to Max. Nick Hulk could prove amusing lots of tantrums in the Verstappen side of the garage during qualifying.

    1. I don’t really know where this idea of Verstappen being a mediocre qualifier comes from (well, maybe I do, the Red Bull is closer to other cars in qualifying than in the race, affecting current perception), but I suspect that any driver would have a tough time equalling him in qualifying. Over the course of a season I’d say only Hamilton, Alonso (slightly doubtful of these two, given the obvious age gap), Leclerc, and maybe Norris or Russell would be equal to him.

      Max Verstappen however also has that innate internal desire to be ahead of everyone else that only a few others have, like Hamilton and Schumacher for example. So he’d definitely turn it up a notch compared to what he does now. At the moment, there’s no point for him to risk crashing in quali for that last two tenths because he knows his car and himself will outrace everyone.

      I also do not remember Verstappen giving much tantrum when Ricciardo outqualified him. Yes that time in Mexico he was probably angry about being denied the record of youngest polesitter ever, but it’s not as if he was blaming anyone other than himself for that, and he tends to make up for things on Sunday when things like that happen with a particular desire to lap the rest of the field.

      1. At the moment, there’s no point for him to risk crashing in quali for that last two tenths because he knows his car and himself will outrace everyone.

        But that’s not the case. We’ve seen recently that this hyper-competitiveness still comes at the expense of seeing the bigger picture and, like Merc’s gaffs during their run of success, the car’s performance and advantage is masking this.

        The second the car suffers an issue that puts him out of the front-running, the frustration very quickly boils over – case in point: Silverstone ’22. There’s a fine line with most racing drivers between frustration and entitlement…

        1. Robert Henning
          10th August 2023, 17:18

          What about Silverstone 2022?

          He had a car that had serious loss of rear downforce and still finished well in points?

      2. Jeffrey Powell
        10th August 2023, 16:33

        I think you misunderstood my comment I think Max is the real deal in every respect performance wise, I just would like to see him pushed a bit more perhaps a driver like Hulkenberg could do it . Seems a waste to have him at Haas , I am certain we would get a lot more entertainment with him at Red Bull. Not going to happen but I live in hope.

        1. I’m sorry, hit the report button when I wanted to reply.

          But yeah fair. I’d like a bit more spice at the Red Bull team as well, then again I very well understand why they don’t go for it. This is their time to reap the rewards of the position they brought themselves in and also Max has worked very hard in the years before his championship to become the driver he is now. Perhaps if Perez crumbles further in the 2nd half of the season we might see Ricciardo back at the front. I’m curious to see how that would play out.

      3. Robert Henning
        10th August 2023, 17:26

        He is definitely a top qualifier. One doesn’t need to look anywhere beyond the Monaco GP qualifying this year, and it is just a useless narrative that has recently shown up. Pre 2022, I remember people rating him as a master over one lap and the question was if he had the same tire management skills as LH and could do it over a race distance, even when he had won 10 races beforehand, and in many of them being having raced LH as well.

        People just tend to look out for things to discredit the dominant driver. Happened to every dominant driver

    2. So you think Verstappen would be 3-4 tenths ahead of Hamilton in speed? Wow. Allowing for rapid adaptation to the Red Bull, they’d be equal, still, Hamilton hasn’t declined since 2021, the car has, drastically. Remember Hamilton was the one to break the Red Bull pole run this season. Given his performance over the last two seasons relative to Lewis, that would put Russell potentially close to Verstappen too, though he’s far less experienced still than either and, I think, less consistently quick.

      1. Jeffrey Powell
        10th August 2023, 16:40

        Absolutely not! what I ment was he would need to be that quick to challenge Max consistently with the current car disparity. Being quicker than Lewis to that extent is not going to happen more likely the other way round ,and if it did like Denis Jenkinson I’d eat my hat.

        1. Jeffrey Powell
          10th August 2023, 16:47

          Sorry it was ‘I’ll shave of my beard if Jochen. Rindt wins a Grand Prix’.

        2. Ah, OK Jeffrey, makes more sense to me now that way round! I suspect Red Bull/Max could boost speed performance further still, Max has hinted as such repeatedly, so 3-4 tenths is maybe even an underestimate…

  3. The car makes such a difference in F1 doesn’t it. I suppose it’s part of the fascination, trying to disentangle it from the driver. But Mercedes need George to be the Mr Saturday they were hoping for. At 38 Lewis is at the early stages of a downward slope, that can’t be helped, so George at 25 ought to be if anything a bit faster a lot of the time.

    1. Alonso is still doing really well and is 3 years older than hamilton, so while indeed usually decline starts at 35 and speeds up at 40, some drivers are still able to perform at top level in their 40s, hamilton could be doing that too atm, after all it’s not easy to beat verstappen to pole, with any car.

      1. Alonso is doing well but his reference is Stroll.
        I think a younger and faster driver at qualifying could have beaten Max for pole in Monaco with Aston Martin.

      2. Yes they can still be very very good, but their reaction times will still be a few milliseconds slower than they were at 25. Look at https://gofullbuild.com/post/how-much-does-reaction-time-declines-with-age. 4ms per year! Still faster than almost anyone else, perhaps, but not quite as fast as they themselves used to be. So if George is has as much potential as Lewis, he ought to be showing it. Experience does count for a lot too, of course, which will be why the average age of a wdc is about 30-32. And yes same for Fernando, but even more so.

        1. These discussions of decline are interesting. First those reaction time data are not focused on trained athletes who have elite hand eye coordination and physical conditioning. Even so these declines are not large in raw terms. And there is an upper limit to human reaction time anyway—-it’s not like some younger person has a 100ms time they will never match again. Second it’s not clear what other aspects of ability decline in relevant terms. These guys are so fit and train hard. I suspect what we perceive is simply that in the past the sport was dangerous and perhaps less selective than it is now so you saw fewer drivers stay around and be competitive so long. Right now think of the number of titles on the grid. When have we had that before? It could be drivers can race competitively until well into their 40s now.

          1. lol what are you saying? The research is a bit inconvenient? :) They are all fit and trained, and all in the top 0.00001%, and they lap within 0.5% so any increase at all in reaction time means they’re slower than the ones they’re competing against. Watch Max correct a slide – you hardly even notice because it’s so fast, then Lance… it’s a crucial part of the skill and it’s the same in tennis and sports generally, and why they almost all retire before 40.

    2. I just love this type of comment

      Alonso is years older and showing he still has it.

      Hamilton broke MV in 2021 – let’s just accept that. Forget the complete cheat.

      He has a bit of a year coming back from the biggest cheat in sporting history- gets a crap car but no gets it’s together and in the second half of the year starts to show his class. In a turd of a car!

      This year same turd but starts right there getting results and once again (2011 anyone – only none red bull pole of the year) gets the third best car at the front of the grid. No one has achieved such yet we are supposed to think he is in decline?

      Spare me.

      If Merc get anywhere near RB which is hugely unlikely for some years..

      The only person that will rattle MV is on the decline apparently


      Even Alonso never known for his qualifying ability gets near him we will see the last four races of 2021 again. Why? Because it’s the RB way.

      The minute he is under realistic pressure- just like any racer he will need to step up.

      At the moment he is just faffing around pretending to race.

      1. I just love this type of comment

        Nice touch…
        Everything after that sentence contradictes .
        It always funny to see…

  4. Back in 2022, I really felt that George would do to Lewis what Charles did to Seb and Lewis himself did to Fernando. But have been proven wrong quite comfortably.

    Lewis @ 38 is having the measure of his teammate quite easily. If George doesn’t improve in 2nd half, he risks comparison with Bottas and Perez rather than Lewis.

    1. On what planet did you think that?

      Leewis has risen to the top across a dozen regulatory changes and is statistically the best ever!

      I mean how is George suddenly going to overtake that?

      No it’s the max is best ever recency crowd that seem to think that some four year youngster is going to Cheney history.

      Honestly people he is not going away

    2. Robert Henning
      10th August 2023, 16:56

      I think it also helps that Lewis was not sacked before the season and didn’t have to actually drive a real crapbox unlike his current car sitting comfortably second on the WCC.

      Vettel and Leclerc during their first year together were relatively well matched everything considered.

      Too many variables generally speaking.

  5. Check maxes pre f1 career against the likes of Russel, lando etc. He was not the best of his generation then. In F1 however due to its formula or nature. We oftentimes confuse talent with car performance. This in noway am I saying he is not talented. But the performance of the cars the design direction and team favouritism greatly affects performance displays by drivers. We must not forget tho in equal machinery Daniel ricardo beat max.

    1. Coventry Climax
      10th August 2023, 14:20

      The pre-F1-career comparison based on such ‘statistics’ can’t be made. Let’s look at it from another perspective:

      Max was younger than most if not all, and hopped through the classes faster than most if not all and anyone before him.
      Quite fair to therefor also conclude he learned faster from the occasional mistake and loss than anyone else too. Had he -hypothetically- stayed in those lower classes longer, he might have easily annihilated all of the competition there. But staying there longer wasn’t necessary.

      I don’t actually care, just trying to prove your conclusions can’t be drawn.

      You don’t have to like the guy to just acknowledge he’s good at racing. No point in continouosly trying to find and come up with arguments why he wouldn’t be.

    2. You kidding, right?

      In equal machinery, Danny got beaten by Kvyat in 2015. In 2016, barely 18 years old, Max scored a victory for RBR well before Danny did… By the end of the season he only had 1 less podium – if he had those first 5 races in the Red Bull, there’s a very good chance he would have out-scored Ricciardo. I love D-Ric as much as anyone as a bloke, but he is massively overhyped as a driver.

    3. That is an argument that is often used exactly the same way when talking about Lewis. Surely a big talent, but his nr of wins and titles is greatly affected by the -8 years in a row fastest car- performance .

  6. Although it won’t be a popular view among some, Russell is up against a Formula 1 all-time great who is still around his peak. I’ve been impressed, even if Hamilton proves stronger as the seasons unfold (hardly a novelty in any season of his career). What’s most evident is Russell’s consistency, relative pace and ability to fight on track. Lots of teams would (or should) pay big money for that. He’s been more consistent than rivals like Leclerc and Sainz, and way, way beyond Pérez. I’m not sure he has the natural adaptability of a Hamilton (or Verstappen or Alonso). But who has? Those three are among the best drivers the sport has ever seen. Difficult to tell with the car he’s been given by Mercedes, but currently I’d place Russell as the next best (fastest and most consistent) driver on the grid bar those three.

    1. Coventry Climax
      10th August 2023, 14:29

      I don’t think there’s that much wrong with his adaptability at all, and there’s not much to prove it would be.
      He was brilliant when he had to take over for Hamilton, and made Bottas blush, it’s just Merc themselves that copulated things up for him there.
      He was quite brilliant at Williams, then did remarkably well in his first full season for Merc, a completely different car, he immediately managed the new spec Mercs, and did a better job of it than slow starter Hamilton.
      Don’t see any adaptability issues, as far as I’m concerned.

      1. Since the W14 update?

        1. Robert Henning
          10th August 2023, 17:15

          Spain – Weird qualifying Session, recovered very well
          Canada – Close in pace to Lewis but made an error (which happened to end his race)
          Austria – Did better than Lewis results wise, even though he wasn’t at Lewis’ pace in quali, and could have done more in the sprint if not for hydraulics issue in the shootout.
          Britain – Had the measure of Lewis all weekend.
          Hungary – Messed up qualifying, decent recovery to P6
          Spa – Different setup, entire weekend was a mess.

          I think he has had a harder time especially with qualifying but is doing good recovery drives, even in a tight midfield.

          I don’t think he has lost pace per say but has just put together a string of poor performance.

          They’re still the most evenly matched pairing on the grid, even if points and statistics say otherwise.

    2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      10th August 2023, 14:55

      @david-br I agree – Russell is a great choice for Mercedes and has already shown his amazing qualities as a driver and a teammate. He was given one of the toughest jobs in the world as he’s not just paired with Lewis but also joining a team that has seen incredible success over a decade with Lewis shattering record after record.

      Given the herculean nature of his assignment, it’s clear he’s done a phenomenal job and I’m sure Mercedes and Toto could not be happier with him.

      1. @freelittlebirds Could be wrong, but I see a focused aggression to Russell reminiscent of Verstappen and reflected in his consistency. I don’t get the same impression with, say, Norris or Leclerc, good as they are.

  7. Hamilton was already the faster and more risk taking of the two last year, he just got unlucky too many times and that cost him by the end.

    Now he’s still faster and the only thing Russell can do is gamble with Safety Cars and weather to beat him. Almost did it at Monaco but lost it a few seconds later.

  8. Robert Henning
    10th August 2023, 17:09

    Hamilton had the higher highs last year as well (P7 to P2 at Hungary, over Russell from P1 to P3), but missed out on consistency quite a lot and made lots of silly errors – Spa crash with Alonso for example throwing away a lot of points. I personally don’t count Brazil as a serious high for Russell, primarily because Lewis and Max crashing let him do his race in the clearly best car that weekend.

    This year Russell seemed to have the measure of Hamilton before the Monaco upgrades and post that comprehensively outperformed Lewis only at Silverstone where he was unlucky not to have finished ahead of Lewis. He had the measure of Hamilton at Australia but the engine blew which cost him further some points.

    Hamilton has the edge but it is closer that what the statistics indicate. I see race/quali H2H as 7-5 which indicates their seasons well.

    I think they are about as evenly matched as last year, with Hamilton have a slight edge, thanks to being primarily more consistent than last year where he was all over the place in multiple races.

    A 40+ point deficit is hard to close, so I expect Lewis to finish ahead in the standings this year.


    In Azerbaijan Russell took the fight to Verstappen in the sprint race – much to the Red Bull driver’s displeasure – and led Hamilton in Miami as well.

    It is not taking the fight itself that Verstappen took displeasure to – it was simply the fact that even after being given enough room, Russell drove right into him causing a hole in the sidepod all while being behind at the corner.

    I don’t recall Verstappen complaining about Russell taking the fight to him at Spain last year where Russell did some aggressive, hard yet fair moves to defend.

  9. To say Lewis has not lost his edge is ridiculous to say the least. He is way slower than he used to be. He was and is just soo much better that we think he is still performing the same as 10 years ago. The same for alonso. All drivers lose their edge over time and get slower. There’s less than a handful that can say they have the longevity or performance,talent like Lewis and alonso still have. How many of us in our late 30s or early 40s can truly say we can still perform with guys in their 20s right now.

    1. Well not to be a downer but I was winning championships in my late thirties in super karts – the multiple champions around me were even older.

      The well fund3d early 20s kids millennials as it were were the majority of the grid…

      Sorry but this you suddenly drop dead at 40 in motor racing is a complete farce. Yes a majority will lose focus as life takes over but I can assure you there are 40 year old racers running rings around the youngsters in fitness and ability.

  10. And in f1 how many are there still? Where the G forces are extreme. Athletic fitness levels are at the very top. Alertness, responsiveness etc. F1 is far more demanding than karting. No disrespect intended. My argument was not that that’s impossible. But that drivers do lose performance in areas over time due to age. That’s why we don’t have many older drivers in f1.

  11. Oh, and lets not forget Brazil 22, where Russell showed us all what he was made of.
    After gaining the advantage in his first Q3 run, he promptly redflags the rest of qualifying to secure pole.

    [Hamilton didn’t get to make his 2nd run]

    Meanwhile in the race, it is Hamilton who got the better of a charging Verstappen, who would have certainly caught and beaten Russell where it not for Hamilton’s “you shall not pass” efforts. Talk about a wingman.

    Ironically, if Verstappen hadn’t gone for one of his infamous moves into the corner, he would not have picked up the damage against Hamilton. Any worthy champion would have held his pace, and then picked off Hamilton on the strights with DRS.

    That race would have been totally different if Verstappen had driven sensibly, as a driver was worthy of his car’s advantage.

  12. Moving on from Russells selfish pole last year, this year we’ve seen him make a couple of howlers which could have spelled disaster for Mercedes. Spain where the two nearly collided , admitedly that was chalked up to poor communication by Mercedes. Then we had something similar in Spa, where Hamilton was effectively blocked on his charge for Pole by his own team mate. Mercedes can not afford mistakes of this order.

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