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Formula 1

Why Russell fits Mercedes – and Hamilton – ‘like a glove’

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

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George Russell begins his Mercedes Formula 1 career in earnest today by driving the W13 first at pre-season testing in Spain but this is a long, long way from his ‘first day’.

That wasn’t last week when he shook down the 2022 car first either. It wasn’t earlier this year, when he headed to Brackley and Brixworth for his first visit as full-time. It wasn’t even his first race for Mercedes back in 2020 when he deputised for Lewis Hamilton at the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Russell has been driving Mercedes F1 cars every year since 2017. From a test driver to reserve driver to fully-fledged race driver alongside Hamilton – via a three-year stint with Williams – Russell has been groomed for this role for a long time.

And his superstar team-mate is among those to appreciate the benefit of that, as Russell seeks to emulate the high-quality working dynamic his predecessor Valtteri Bottas was able to cultivate.

“He’s had an amazing run, getting to Formula 1,” says Hamilton of Russell.

“And he was already a part of our team. So I’ve seen him around our engineering, I’ve seen him over in the simulator, and then obviously him being in Williams.

“He fits in and fits the position like a glove. And so far it’s great.”

Hamilton made it clear how much he enjoyed having Bottas as a team-mate. From 2017 to 2021, Hamilton had someone alongside him who he worked well with, who was an excellent team player and who contributed a lot to improving the car – but who Hamilton always knew he could beat.

The warmth Hamilton showed Bottas extended to extolling his virtues even when Russell looked more and more assured of taking Bottas’s seat for 2022. And that has been interpreted by some as a potential crack in the Hamilton/Russell foundation – does Hamilton even want this guy around?

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Race Day Abu Dhabi, Uae

But Hamilton has embraced Russell as his new team-mate and the future of Mercedes. In return, Russell looks up to Hamilton with immense respect. He is very deliberate with what he says about the seven-time world champion and has been for years.

These two will butt heads at some point. They are too competitive not to, and Hamilton acknowledges Russell is good enough to cause problems.

But they will also be a formidable partnership and even if some tension creeps in from time to time it would be a surprise if this undermines their common goal.

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“I think I’ve learned a lot over the years of how to engage with your team-mate and how you work as a team, in helping the team achieve the ultimate goal,” says Hamilton.

“That’s one of the reasons we have more world titles than any other team.

“And so I’m excited to engage with him, to collaborate with him. Hopefully, our driving styles aren’t too dissimilar.

“I know also what it’s like for him being in the position up against a world champion and I know the pressures that come with it, the expectations, and also the internal feelings of what it’s like.

“And I want him to to learn as much as he can, and grow as much as he can.

“I have no doubts he’s going to be a strong competitor, so I’ll be focusing also hard to make sure I do the job to the best of my ability.”

Mercedes Amg F1 W13 E Performance Launch Steve Etherington

Russell says much the same. In fact, there are a lot of similarities in how Mercedes’ two drivers speak. That’s no surprise as Russell has always been an intelligent operator but he also had a front row seat to a Hamilton masterclass in 2018, when he was often in engineering meetings and debriefs in his role as reserve driver.

Both talk plainly about putting the team first. Their priority is for the team to have the fastest car possible. It’s to be expected, but they can also be trusted to back that up with action.

It’s clear that being selfish early on is not on either driver’s agenda.

“Lewis and I have a huge amount of respect for each other,” says Russell.

“It has also helped that I was in the engineering meetings five years ago, sat at the back listening and learning. And that working relationship was already there.

“And I guess we always knew over time that this was a big possibility that we could be team-mates. So we’ve always had a good relationship.

“In terms of how he will help develop me, it’s just being open with one another, I think we need to prioritise the pace of the car before prioritising each other, because things aren’t going to be quite as clear cut as they were in the past three years when the regulations have been stable, things have tailed off, and there’s only small improvements coming here and there.

“The rate of improvement’s going to be massive this year. And we need to make sure we’re sharing as much data as possible between each other, working as well as possible with each other.

“Because it’s in our own interests to make sure we have the fastest car. And if that time comes, then we can potentially worry about each other.

“But until then it’s full focus on making the fastest car possible for each other.”

That’s a very Hamilton answer and it might smack of ‘saying the right thing’ but it should be taken at face value. Especially as Russell can be trusted to contribute to that process quickly.

Not every driver would slot into this role as well as Russell should. He’s been part of the set-up for so long that he has far less to learn than a true ‘outsider’ moving team would. There is no doubt Russell is in a better place than, say, Bottas was in 2017.

“I really do feel like I’m at home,” says Russell. “Everybody’s been so welcoming. I know the team so well. So I already feel comfortable with them and I think they feel comfortable with me.

“And we can just get to business. It doesn’t even feel like a transition period. It just feels like I am with a team who I’ve been with over these past years.

Motor Racing Formula One Testing Budapest, Hungary

“It was only recently I realised I’ve actually driven a Mercedes F1 car every single year since 2017. So I do really feel immersed with these guys.”

That will accelerate Russell’s adaptation to a top team in 2022. It’s why he “fits like a glove”. And that’s something Mercedes and Hamilton should benefit from in tandem.

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