Russell on Mercedes intra-team drama at F1 Japanese GP: “It’s just hard, fair racing”

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On race day at Suzuka, Mercedes’ closest battle was… with each other, as George Russell and Lewis Hamilton nearly came to blows. Russell, despite voicing his unhappiness several times over team radio, deemed the on-track battle “hard but fair” when he spoke to the media after the race.

The chaotic start saw the Safety Car being deployed in the opening stages of the Japanese Grand Prix. Russell saw an opportunity and lunged at Hamilton on Lap 5, moving ahead of him, but only momentarily, as Hamilton quickly retook 7th from his younger teammate.

The battle resumed on Lap 16 after Hamilton denied his teammate in a move that saw both of them going wide. In response, a disgruntled Russell deadpanned over team radio: “Who do we want to fight here, each other or the others?”

At one point running in second, Russell initially had the appetite for a bigger result, and had opted for a bold one-stop strategy, but that did nothing to help him challenge for a podium position and only left him vulnerable in the closing stages of the race, as Hamilton, Leclerc and Sainz were on fresher tyres.

Urged by Hamilton, who warned that “we’re going to lose both of these positions,” the team made the decision to invert positions—which didn’t sit well with Russell, who questioned the decision.

It was a risky move, with Sainz rapidly closing in on Russell, but the pair executed it well. Russell asked for Hamilton to keep him in DRS range to help him defend against the charging Sainz, pointedly saying, “If you want to play the team game, he pushed me off the track earlier, it’s the least he can do.”

However, the plan backfired, and as predicted, Russell soon fell into the Spaniard’s clutches. The Ferrari driver successfully split the two Mercedes, who ultimately finished P5 and P7.

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The race evidently left both drivers feeling frustrated, though Russell remained diplomatic as he commented on the events afterwards.

On his intense battle with Hamilton, he said: “I viewed it as good hard racing. Thankfully we were in a position to put him [Hamilton] under pressure and making the moves on him. I was happy with them, so I’ll take the positives from that.

“The pace of the car my side I thought was quite strong considering how difficult the tyres were to drive this weekend. It’s just hard, fair racing,” Russell explained.

“Of course we lost a bit of overall time fighting one another, and again you get a bit frustrated on the radio but it’s something that’s a part of racing.”

“Both of us lost time to the cars around us. We aren’t going to give up the position easily to one another, it was still early on in the race and I had more pace but he was the car who was ahead.

“As I said, part of racing and there’s nothing to discuss [with the team]. We’ve got bigger fish to fry which is how do we make our car faster.”

“I’ll take the positives away from this race,” Russell said. “A three-stop was closer to optimal than a one-stop yet we made a one-stop possible and it wasn’t like Piastri flew past us.

“It took him two laps, he only just overtook us by the end of the straight. Charles, perhaps I could have held onto the position, so considering the pace of the car, I was glad we rolled the dice and P5 and P7 is a fair result.”

Commenting on the personal drama of the final laps, Russell conceded that “the team made the right call.”

Photo credit: Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team

“Of course it’s difficult for the team to judge. But as I said, I’ve got one goal which is to finish P2 in the Constructor’s championship for the team,” he said.

“We use the radio as a bit of a release valve because it’s so hot in the car, it’s a long race, you’re there pushing for an hour and a half, you’re fighting every inch.

“Lewis has had a really consistent season this year and he’s in the battle for P3 in the Driver’s championship. Worst case, we lost two extra points today but we could have ended up with four less points, so when you take the averages, the team made the right call.

“From my side, zero hard feelings. We gotta work on the car, we aren’t going to get upset over a potential fifth and sixth, not fifth and seventh.”