Toto Wolff would have known that a collision between his two drivers was inevitable given both of their fighting spirits, but it’s now make or break on whether the English duo can come through the other side to help Mercedes return to their former glory. There was no mistake about it on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton was at fault and he accepted full responsibility for the error.
But the pair’s immediate reaction to the collision on team radio shows how quickly tension can arise in a team environment and Hamilton knows better than most how things can turn ugly. The crash between the Mercedes drivers has immediately drawn comparisons to the fallout between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg many moons ago.
The last thing Wolff will want is a repeat of that same partnership emerging in the next few years with both Hamilton and Russell tied up to new deals until the end of 2025. By that point, Mercedes will be hoping they’re in a position to once again challenge for trophies and they arguably possess the stronger driver line-up to achieve that.
Choosing Russell to replace Valtteri Bottas in 2022 was an indication that Wolff had learnt from the Hamilton-Rosberg fiasco while still wanting to keep the team competitive. With Bottas, Mercedes had a safe bet who never truly challenged Hamilton at a time where he didn’t need to be pushed too hard.
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Part of the reason it went so wrong with Rosberg and Hamilton was that both drivers were at the same point of their careers. Mercedes’ decision to bring in Russell would have partly been down to their hope that the young Brit would take the torch from Hamilton and learn from one of his sporting heroes.
There’s a clear level of respect from Russell’s side for Hamilton and all he has achieved. Just days before he was shunted by Hamilton, Russell sang his team-mate’s praises for helping push him to new heights.
“He is the greatest driver of all time. Every single weekend I go out, practice, quali, race, you are directly compared to the greatest driver of all time,” he said on the Beyond The Grid podcast. “It’s such a privileged position to be in, because not many drivers get that chance. We all believe in ourselves. We all believe we are the best and we all believe that when we get the car, we will win championships.
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“I can very, very confidently sit here and say there’s probably five drivers on this grid that, if you put them in the best car, they will win the championship. I have no doubt about that. For me, Lewis is one of those guys.” Russell added: “I truly believe in myself, the team believes in me, and that’s been really down to the fact that I’ve been team-mates with Lewis and held my own.”
But the 25-year-old has already shown signs during the last two races that his battles with Hamilton are starting to grate on him. Teams have always struggled to find the right balance with two drivers capable of pushing for race wins and world titles.
Wolff would have thought he’d found the right formula by bringing in a young Russell to team up with Hamilton from 2022. But the crash in Qatar highlights how thin that line can be in keeping both sides of the garage happy.
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