Russell can’t repeat points win over Hamilton but proves a close match again

2023 F1 team mates head-to-head

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It was a strange feature of Mercedes’ season that, despite the team moving up from third to second place in the constructors’ championship year-on-year, both their drivers scored fewer points than they did in 2022.

Lewis Hamilton was on course to better his 2022 total before hitting a rough patch over the final three races. George Russell had a ‘difficult second album’ of a year after out-scoring his seven-times champion team mate in his first season in a front-running car.

The upshot was Hamilton amassed the most points of either driver. Not that it will matter much to him at the end of a second consecutive win-less season, and Mercedes’ first campaign without a grand prix victory since 2011.

At the end of the year Hamilton admitted he had misgivings about the decisions Mercedes had made with its W14 when he first drove it. While the car plainly wasn’t quick enough and gave its best only within a narrow set-up window, invariably described as a “knife-edge”, Hamilton was ill at ease with its handling from the off.

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2023
Mercedes’ only pole position came courtesy of Hamilton in Hungary
The car had major cosmetic surgery at the Monaco Grand Prix, following which Hamilton seemed to click with it a little more easily. He reversed his early 4-1 deficit to Russell in qualifying and even claimed the team’s sole pole position of the season at the Hungaroring.

Russell produced a strong run of qualifying performances after the summer break but failed to convert them into strong results. A poor tyre choice at Zandvoort didn’t help and he crashed out while trying to attack Lando Norris in Singapore, on one of the few weekends where Mercedes looked quick enough to win.

The two drivers ended the season all-square in qualifying, the only pair of team mates to do so, though Mercedes often found that when one driver had the car working well the other was unhappy. For a brief spell of races towards the end of the year, the pair found themselves disputing the same piece of track, sometimes to their detriment.

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Hamilton piled pressure on Russell over the closing laps in Singapore before his crash. At Suzuka, Russell was clearly put out by Hamilton’s defensive driving, and the team responded by moving them onto different strategies. But worst followed in Qatar, where a poorly-judged sweep into the first corner by Hamilton took him out of the race and badly compromised Russell’s.

These run-ins were smoothed over, however, and the team and drivers never lost sight of the fact their biggest problem was the car. If Mercedes finally manages to put that right next year, the question of which of their drivers performs better might start to matter more.

While the last two seasons have been a disappointment for Mercedes, they must be pleased with the performance of their most recent driver hiring. Russell has contributed 48.7% of the team’s points in that time.

That’s better than Hamilton’s last team mate, Valtteri Bottas, managed over five years (40.8%). Better too than his predecessor Nico Rosberg produced over four years – notwithstanding the fact he beat Hamilton to a world championship. The last driver to perform better against Hamilton than this was Jenson Button – another title-winner.

Which makes the question of how Mercedes’ drivers will fare against each other if the team manages to produce a competitive car again an especially fascinating one.

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

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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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26 comments on “Russell can’t repeat points win over Hamilton but proves a close match again”

  1. IMO, points aside, Lewis had the better year. Sure he wiped our George in Qatar and didn’t really show up in the final three races (disappointing given P2 was possible and they were still fighting to get P2 in the WCC) but he still nailed 6 podiums and looked after his tyres very well. Lewis’ experience is very telling here.

    George qualified well and didn’t tend to look after his tyres as well. He also bottled a few good opportunities like P2 in Singapore. That said, I don’t think his season was as bad as many have made out, he just made a few poor decisions.

    I wouldn’t be surprised in Mercedes build another dud in 2024, that George beats Lewis uncomfortably often and Lewis quietly leaves the sport at the end of the season.

    1. Stephen Taylor
      6th December 2023, 12:52

      Nah other than exceptions like Abu Dhabi his season was bad and his racecraft was pretty poor.

      1. Being a British driver, I think Russell probably gets hyped a bit by the British media, and added to that, a few good results against Hamilton and people go over the top. He is fast of course, they all are, but in some races he seemed to run out of ideas on how to get past people.

        1. Think George is often his own worst enemy – judging by his comments on the team radio during a race – his mindset seems to suffer quickly (notably Zandvoort) and he is often bad at judging a situation (complaining about Hamilton / being faster etc).

          1. Have to agree with all of that too. Like a few other drivers, he does himself no favours over the radio. Sarcasm is never going to go down well with the guy on the pit wall doing his best for you.

        2. Indeed. The Sky crew endlessly gush over every half-decent British driver. They were high as a kite on Mr. Saturday for so long and I think Kravitz might literally be in love with Lando.

      2. GR is fast but he seriously needs to improve his much too aggressive defensive skills. Trying to overtake GR is a lot like going for Esteban Ocon, even if you are clearly faster chances are that GR or FO will crash into you.

  2. Stephen Taylor
    6th December 2023, 12:48

    Erm what season were you watching? It was close in qualifying but for most of the races Lewis destroyed George. The fact that Russell couldn’t even outqualify a 38 year old ageing LH is not a good sign. Russell has regressed from where he was a year o two ago but the UK media wants to protect George at all costs as they have already annoited him the heir apparent to LH. His racecraft and tyre management are patchy at best

    1. I should have read this one before replying to your previus post. Yes, fully agree, he is more of a media star than a track star.

    2. This! Lewis is less than two years from 40, the old geezer should be giving young hot shot so much trouble!

  3. Lol close, don’t make me laugh Mr Saturday who failed to turn up on a Sunday and got trashed by Hamilton this year.

  4. I think Russell will be disappointed in his performance this year. Given Hamilton’s contract situation coming into this season, it’s no exaggeration to say that Russell could have ended Hamilton’s career if he’d continued to outperform him as he did in 2022. But this year Hamilton was clearly quicker, especially on Sundays, and the points tally reflects that.

    As we now know Hamilton isn’t going anywhere for a while, if Russell wants to be a world champion then the first thing he needs to do is beat his teammate. This year was nowhere near convincing enough.

    1. Fully agree.

      I like George but to be honest his 2022 wasn’t superb post Canada either. In the last 14 races, George finished ahead 3 times, Holland where Hamilton was ahead but for a tyre tactic under the safety car, Italy and the win in Brazil (where Lewis had contact with Max, but was behind admittedly).

      The start of 2023, George was ahead in 3 of the first 5 races this time but then again ahead only 3 times in the final 17 rounds. I’m sure there are numerous caveats to discuss, and I do think George is performing better than Bottas for example, but 5 race finishes ahead in 22 makes it 8 in the past 36 rounds – and even one of them was fortunate – is not a good look for GR.

    2. George needs to look fast, he was setting his car up for qualifying and the team believes in him, maybe more than Lewis. Which is a shame, or maybe just Toto, and George is cheaper and easier to control, but at any rate, George either doesn’t have the feel or hes desperate to out qualify his senior teammate in order to ‘surpass’ him in the press/minds of the fans. I seriously doubt George is quicker than Lewis, I doubt he ever will be. But Toto really is the biggest problem right now for Lewis. And to be honest, I would like to see Ferrari wipe the floor with Mercedes unless Merc decide to give Lewis a good couple years effort before he signs off. A shame to see one of the best suffering setup issues on a team that should have their stuff together. At least his car wasn’t breaking down left and right like Rosberg’s championship run. But it is what it is.

  5. The statistic that “Russell has contributed 48.7% of the team’s points in that time” and the comparison with Bottas (40.8%) is somewhat misleading. The reason is how the points are distributed after a race: at the top there are much bigger gaps than further down the grid.

    For instance, consider a super dominant team which always finishes 1st and 2nd. Then the driver who finishes second will “only” contribute 41.8% of the points (= 18 / (25+18)). On other hand, in a midfield team where the drivers finish 5th and 6th, the less successful driver contributes 44.4% (= 8 / (10 +8)).

    Given that during Bottas’ times, Mercedes had a dominant car, and during Russell’s time, they did not, shows that this comparison is somewhat skewed. (This is not to take away from Russell’s achievements. I think he is doing a great job.)

    1. Very well said! Stats are often misunderstood, or just misrepresented.

    2. As the saying goes, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. F1 stats are some of the most easily misunderstood and misrepresentative.

    3. Somewhat but not that much. Midfield or top team, 48.5% is really close, far from a significant difference.

  6. On race days, Hamilton was also quicker in 2022 than Russell.

    This year Hamilton improved in Qs, wasnt struck by bad luck like last year (DQ aside) and unlike previous season, Russell made a few race-ending errors.

    The big difference was, that last year Mercedes was more competitive. On too many races Mercedes was trailing behind atleast two other cars and sometimes three.

    On overall, Mercedes still has the strongest pairing. Leclerc and Sainz make too many mistakes, plus Sainz lacks the pace too often. In Red Bull, Aston Martin and Mclaren the gap between the two drivers is vast.

    1. Uhm, what? At McLaren the gap between the two drivers is vast? I think they were quite close, considering Piastri was green.

  7. The headline is bizarre. George took the season off.

  8. This article could have been written by George. This was not a good year for him. He scored way less points, made quite a few mistakes and trashed the car in Singapore, the only race Mercedes could practically win. Comparing to previous teammates is apples vs oranges as Mercedes was dominating then.

    I rate him high but he not in the level of Hamilton or Max. If Mercedes delivers next year except Lewis to lead the championship battle.

    1. I believe Keith’s married name is Keith Russell. So, maybe it was.

  9. Ham was in another league. Wasn’t a close match.

  10. Pretty much the same picture as with Rosberg or Bottas. Lewis seems to distract a bit better from the car.

  11. Robert Henning
    7th December 2023, 9:42

    With the exception of a couple of races and luck, neither driver has passed the other on track on similar strategy.

    The Merc team battle is one that has basically come down to doing well in qualifying and getting off the line well.

    The gaps are exaggerated by Russell being an idiot but I also don’t find Hamiltons season very impressive.

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