Towards the end of the Suzuka Grand Prix, a situation of intense competition crystalised. George Russell – making a one-stop strategy work – was running fifth, while Lewis Hamilton chased him down. Meanwhile, a swiftly advancing Ferrari, commanded by Carlos Sainz, was breathing down their neck from the rear.
Hamilton, despite possessing fresher tyres, didn’t receive an immediate instruction to surpass his Mercedes team-mate Russell. The delay sparked Hamilton’s ire, broadcasting his annoyance over the radio to the team.
Eventually, Mercedes‘ pitwall consented for Russell to step aside, paving the way for Hamilton, who was then required to maintain a DRS range to Russell as an attempt to fend off Sainz. However, Hamilton couldn’t toe the line – he candidly expressed his disagreement with holding back to the team via radio. Post-race, he asserted that pushing forward to establish as much of a gap as possible would’ve been the smarter play.
“I don’t think that was a good idea at all,” Hamilton conveyed his thoughts. “When they suggested it to me, I knew that they had obviously thought of it from the last race, and it made no sense.”
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes‘ trackside engineering director, clarified that the decision was made with the primary purpose of preventing Hamilton from being outpaced by Sainz. “It is quite difficult to organise the cars live,” he admitted. He explained that seeing Sainz’s rapid progress and fearing Hamilton’s vulnerability due to his worn-out tyres propelled them to switch strategies. The overarching aim was to guarantee that Hamilton ended up well-placed, securing him a position in front of Sainz.
Mercedes had managed to avoid potentially troublesome wheel-on-wheel disasters by straying onto different strategies for Hamilton and Russell. While Hamilton implemented the universally popular two-stop technique, Russell made do with a one-stop solution due to relatively manageable tyre wear.
Shovlin firmly stated that Russell’s early scuffle with Hamilton had no influence on the strategic choice. He emphasized that the team’s main focus was on accumulating points against Ferrari. “Once we realised that we’re not challenging McLaren for a podium, we’re looking at what’s going on with Ferrari.” He mentioned that the alternate strategies were utilized to the team’s utmost potential, providing them with opportunities to settle the odds given the Ferrari duo had initiated the race ahead.
Mercedes’ Chief communications officer, Bradley Lord, dismissed any discussions about the increased friction between Hamilton and Russell because of their aggressive confrontation on track and the heated words exchanged over the radio. He indicated that the heat of the moment, combined with the demanding nature of the race, contribute to such occurrences.
“Anything that needs tidying up or discussing afterwards, we’ll be able to take away from that pressure cooker and deal with it nice and calmly in the debrief.” Lord added.