Hamilton reaction made Russell’s life ‘hard’ and changed balance at Mercedes

Former F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve believes George Russell’s challenging season was down to Lewis Hamilton taking things up a gear – and that he is now the No 2 behind his more experienced compatriot.

Russell had won the intra-Mercedes battle in his first season with the Brackley-based outfit but was well beaten this year as Hamilton registered an impressive third-place finish in the Drivers’ World Championship, some 59 points ahead of his team-mate.

The ex-Williams star admitted that he had had a ‘scrappy’ season having struggled to find any consistency and finished the campaign with only two podiums to his name – four fewer than Hamilton.

Villeneuve was left ‘surprised’ by the huge margin that separated the two Mercedes drivers this season given Russell had seemingly established himself as the No 1 last year. However, he believes Russell’s life has been made harder this season after Hamilton finally recovered from the heartbreak of having the 2021 world title ripped away.

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“Last year, he just came in as a rookie in the team. The new boy coming from Williams. All he had to do was beat Lewis, he didn’t have to focus too much on going for the wins. So it was a lot easier for him,” he said of Russell to Planet F1.

“Lewis had to react to having lost a championship the year before and, suddenly, not being in the car that can win easily. I think that got to him, it took him time to react. And that made life easy for George.

“This year, it’s been a little bit the opposite, because Lewis came back realising that he has to work like he used to work at the beginning of his career. And that’s changed the balance a bit. George came into the scene thinking, ‘OK, now I’m ahead of Lewis, I can fight, I’m one of the winners. That’s changed his mindset as well.”

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Despite being convincingly beaten by Hamilton, and both drivers raising concerns about the W14 throughout the season, Russell remains bullish about Mercedes’ prospects for 2024.

He said: “Last year was definitely a trickier car to drive. But as if it was for many teams, we made some big improvements, but what has caught us out this year stemmed from the winter development. We took the wrong direction. We made some mistakes, and that was evident as soon as we hit the track in Bahrain.

“Going into the third year now, I’m confident we’re not going to make those same mistakes. I’m confident we’ve got some good gains over this winter; we’re finding them at the moment. But at the end of the day, it’s a relative game, and we don’t know what our rivals are going to bring.”

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