George Russell joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes
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Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has revealed how Lewis Hamilton’s approach has changed now he’s fighting for a world title alongside Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
The pair had a fair few near misses at the start of the season, before tangling on the opening lap of the British Grand Prix, spearing Verstappen into the tyre wall at high impact.
Hamilton picked up a ten-place grid penalty for his part in the collision, with both the teams and drivers sharing heated words in the aftermath.
But tensions boiled over again at the Italian Grand Prix after Verstappen suffered a slow pit-stop in Monza, with Hamilton thrust alongside him as he exited the pits on lap 26.
Entering the chicane, neither yielded with Verstappen bumping over the kerbs, propelling the Red Bull into the air and landing awkwardly on the Mercedes with both cars stuck in the gravel.
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This time it was the Dutchman that picked up a penalty, with all eyes on the pair heading to Russia.
Hamilton has been forced to yield many times this season, calling Verstappen’s style ‘aggressive’ on the race track, but Wolff admits something has changed for the seven-time world champion.
“They race each other very close now which wasn’t the case in the past,” said Wolff.
“We are discussing these things in detail and I think the change of approach is that Lewis pretty much decided not to bail out anymore if he thinks that the corner is his.
“It needs two to tango and needs two to understand each other on track when a collision can be avoided.
“They are in the cars, we have no influence on the driving and they know much better than we do how much the other one is racing. It is interesting to watch.”
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Hamilton was criticised by Verstappen for celebrating after his win at Silverstone, with the 23-year-old in hospital for further checks after the accident.
Verstappen meanwhile came under fire from Hamilton for not stopping to check if he was unharmed after the wheel of the Red Bull grazed his helmet in Monza.
But Wolff says there is mutual respect there, and both drivers are professionals.
“I think the very good ones recognise the other very good ones,” added Wolff.
“Therefore, from a driving standpoint, there will be a lot of respect for each other like with some others on track.
“The personalities are very different, their lives are very different but that has no interference on the respect of the ability of the guy in the other car.”
Verstappen leads the way on points heading into the Russian Grand Prix, with a five-point lead over Hamilton.
However, the Dutchman will start from the back of the grid on Sunday after taking an all-new power unit in Sochi due to extensive damage from the crash at Silverstone.
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