In the closing moments of the Suzuka Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell were locked in a close battle for fifth place as a hard-pushing Carlos Sainz drew nearer. Ultimately Hamilton, who was better equipped with superior tyres, overtook Russell. However, he was then instructed to slow his pace to ensure that Russell remained within the DRS range. This strategy was aimed at preventing Russell from becoming an easy target for Sainz on the straights.
This maneuver recalls an incident from the previous week where Sainz had skillfully employed the same tactic to aid Lando Norris, effectively keeping the Mercedes team at bay. Yet, Hamilton raised concerns about the move, arguing that it limited his ability to create a sizable lead over Sainz. “I don’t think that was a good idea at all,” stated Hamilton. “When they suggested it to me, I knew that they had obviously thought of it from the last race, and it made no sense.”
Hamilton felt the need to get as far ahead as possible. He explained: “I was around two seconds ahead and they asked me then to give George DRS, so I had to come off the gas down the straight to get him 0.8s behind.” This led to Russell catching up thanks to the DRS but ultimately being overtaken. “He got DRS, but got overtaken, which was going to happen because he was on a one-stop and we were on a two,” Hamilton recalled.
Upon being overtaken by Sainz, Hamilton was at the mercy of his fellow competitor. This development made the final laps of the race challenging, causing Hamilton to acknowledge that Mercedes should have been satisfied with resolving for fifth and seventh places as opposed to a potential sixth and seventh. He argued that Mercedes could have better managed the situation between him and Russell, which ultimately led to lost time during this pivotal phase of the race.
“We should have swapped around earlier and I should have got as far ahead as possible to keep the gap as big as I could to the Ferrari,” Hamilton suggested. The struggle between him and Russell only complicated the race further. “The fact is we’re not fighting each other in the teams’ championship, as the drivers’ is not important where we are. What’s important is one of us finishes ahead of the Ferrari to keep the position [in the constructors’]. So today we really needed to work as a team,” he added.
The tension between Hamilton and Russel had been brewing throughout the Grand Prix, resulting in aggressive defensive manoeuvres from Hamilton. Despite appearing harsh towards Russell, Hamilton maintained that he had not crossed any boundaries. He even acknowledged that his performance had been slightly affected by a collision with Sergio Perez at the first corner.
“I was definitely aggressive, but I think it was good racing,” Hamilton said. “Honestly I shouldn’t really have been in that position.” He mentioned an issue affecting his driving during the race. “But I think I’ve picked up a little something on the right front and it just kept sniping the front right at the last corner and Turn 9. Then it wouldn’t turn through the hairpin.” Despite the struggle, Hamilton embraced the challenge, deeming the highly competitive nature of the race necessary for securing a favourable placement.