Former Mercedes reserve driver Sam Bird suggests that the tension between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell during the Japanese Grand Prix would have escalated further had a podium finish been at stake.
The Mercedes teammates pursued distinct strategies, resulting in some exhilarating racing at Suzuka on Sunday.
Russell seemed to have overtaken Hamilton at the final chicane in the race’s early stages, only for Hamilton to swiftly regain the position on the pit straight.
Tensions between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell unfolded at the Japanese Grand Prix as they pursued different strategies. They engaged in thrilling on-track battles, including a contentious moment at the Spoon Curve.
George Russell, at the final stages of the race, on a one-stop strategy, requested Mercedes to use Hamilton as a shield against Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari, but he was instructed to yield to Hamilton. This led to Russell losing a position to Sainz.
Some pundits criticized Mercedes’ decision, however, Sam Bird believes the team’s overall lack of competitiveness at Suzuka should limit any negative impact on the pair’s relationship.
“It’s a seventh place instead of a sixth place [for Russell]. If this was for the podium [it would be more intense], but the fact that it’s for a slightly lower position reduces the niggle that they might have,” said the former Mercedes development driver on the BBC podcast.
“If that was for a win or for a podium – and they’ve missed out on a podium because of that – it’s a different kettle of fish. I think they should have done it earlier, but they’re racing drivers. They want to fight for every position.
“You can’t tell me that George is going to just [say]: ‘Of course, Lewis, just cruise by me and then I’ll sit there.’
“You don’t have that train of thought all the time. It was different for Carlos Sainz in Singapore because he was leading. It’s different if you’re fighting with your team-mate.”