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TREMAYNE: Russell extracts everything from Mercedes’ W13 – but cancel Hamilton at your own risk


We need to talk about George.

After five of the 23 Grands Prix scheduled for 2022, it was time to do it. Because boy, is there a lot to talk about!

Let’s face it, by the time Mr Russell replaced Covid-stricken Lewis Hamilton at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, we knew from the way he drove this Mercedes against established team star Valtteri Bottas, that he really had what it took.

We’ve rated him before after winning the GP3 and F2 titles in successive years with ART in 2017 and 2018, and only the cruelest of luck kept him from earning his first victory that day to prove his ability. latent to the rest of the world.

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Russell came awfully close to a first F1 win at Sakhir, replacing Lewis Hamilton in 2020

This year, however, the gods smiled on him and his transition to Mercedes went smoothly, at least from the outside. Fourth in Bahrain, fifth in Jeddah, third in Australia, fourth in Imola and fifth in Miami. He is currently the only driver to have finished in the top five in all races.

In his own way, he made his mark as impressively as Lewis did with McLaren in 2007, but with the advantage of three years under his wheels with Williams. After three races he was actually only second to runaway Charles Leclerc in the World Championship standings, and he is currently fourth.

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His problem, of course, is that Mercedes. But while it must be infuriating to have arrived a year late, as the team struggles with what appears to be an uncooperative car, he does the job of an ultimate team player by hiding his frustration to the world. Yet, at the same time, he is engagingly honest.

One of the things I’ve always respected the most about him is that he speaks his mind, and to me that’s a sign of not just someone who’s basically honest with him himself, but who has the inner confidence to be his own man. Unusual for someone still so young.

“We obviously had a bit of luck there, but it’s part of the game, it’s part of the sport. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t,” Russell said after stepping onto the podium. in Australia.

He hasn’t given a bad performance yet, but for me, Miami really stood out. Because, for the first time, it was George who was really struggling with the car, the styling of which really didn’t suit, and after this superb demonstration by setting the fastest time in FP2 when W13 seemed to be working really well, he was all at sea in qualifying and couldn’t be better 12th on the grid.

He was perplexed, as his teammate Lewis had been many times before and, yes, he was taken aback. He’s a racer, so what else could one expect, especially after Friday raised his hopes and let him show once again what he can really do in the right car. But it was the way he handled the race that was really impressive.

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He opted for the hard Pirellis and initially struggled to get them into their full working temperature range. But afterwards it started to climb, and through the vagaries of pit stops for the likes of Yuki Tsunoda, Kevin Magnussen, Fernando Alonso and Lando Norris, he was able to accelerate behind Lewis in sixth, just as the rubber Lewis’ way was reaching the end of the road.

This became sixth when Lewis stopped on lap 22. Cue, then, another intervention from the safety car, just as George had enjoyed at a critical moment in Australia to get ahead of his partner.

2022 Miami Grand Prix: Russell battles with Mercedes teammate Hamilton

And here’s the thing about George, because we can’t ignore his situation compared to his seven-time champion teammate. They both had a podium finish, but where George currently sits fourth with 59 points, Lewis is sixth with 36.

Now maybe you’ve been living on Mars from Abu Dhabi, or working for some dailies, in which case you might really believe that Lewis is now suddenly on the hill and unable to keep up with a whippersnapper, or that the dismal form of W13 somehow sapped a warrior’s fighting spirit.

Have a happy life if so, but prepare for embarrassment as the season progresses and Mercedes finds the key to unlocking what both drivers – especially after Friday morning in Miami – believe. to be a fast car potential.

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In F1, one person’s reasons are a critic’s excuses, but there are many reasons for the positional imbalance between the two Mercedes drivers.

Besides those two Safety Car interventions, which cost Lewis third place at George in Australia and fifth in Miami, there was their different setup in Jeddah. In the interest of finding some sort of path out of the wilderness, the two occasionally tried different settings, and in Saudi Arabia Lewis’ car simply had too much front end for a track that also demanded decent traction. Hence a terrible qualifying session and an unfortunate run to 10th as George took fifth.

READ MORE: Hamilton says he ‘gave it all’ at Miami GP as he reveals background to tense Mercedes pit wall talks

There was an idea promulgated in Miami that because he drove for Williams, George was better at driving a bad car. But that conveniently forgets that Lewis has driven his share of bad cars before; the IndyCar lookalike MP4-24 wasn’t so great in its 2009 world title defense season, but it won with it in Hungary and Singapore and was walking in Abu Dhabi before it broke.

And I remember Fernando Alonso once said of him: “He could win with a dominant car, with a good car like 2010 or 2012, or with bad cars like 2009 and 2011. Not every champion can say that.”

So let’s drop this new “idea”. But it’s fair to say that for George, the W13, with all its well-documented shortcomings, is still a step up from the Williams FW43B.

2009 proves Hamilton knows a thing or two about driving a less than ideal car

For Lewis, it’s well below what he’s used to. Maybe there’s something in there, because everyone is looking for their sweet spot. But anyone suggesting he somehow forgot how to drive was clearly not watching the last five races of 2021. Was what happened in Abu Dhabi tantamount to Samson getting a haircut? I do not think so.

The best description I’ve ever heard of a driver of a bad vehicle was when Chip Hanauer – Jim Clark on the water – piloted Miss Budweiser in America’s Unlimited seaplane series in the early 90s .

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It tended to either win or blow at high speed, depending on the water conditions, and it got annoying. “It was like dating a psycho woman,” Chip recounted. “I didn’t know if she was going to kiss me or bite me.”

Lewis compared W13 to a viper or a rattlesnake, so you get the picture. We all know what can happen when you appeal to a snake’s best nature.

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At present, comparing George and Lewis will never present the complete picture. To me they both do everything they can to massage the speed, performance and reliability of a car that clearly needs a lot of understanding, and either plays it wrong depending on its capricious whim, and the best way I can sum up their individual situations is that the gods smile more at one than the other.

And I’m sure I’m far from the only one hoping Mercedes gets their act, and their recalcitrant car, together soon. But if there’s a bright ray in there somewhere, it’s that George is doing everything I expected him to do after that Sakhir run in 2020, which means when – and I’m sure that it will be when, not if – Mercedes are on the pace, they will have the strongest driver pairing on the grid.