The Power Shift At Mercedes

The sabotage rumours may have been debunked, but there is a shift of power at Mercedes.

There have been sabotage rumours surrounding Mercedes in relation to Lewis Hamilton. There was also an anonymous email sent with the claims. Mercedes have since debunked the rumours, with Toto Wolff saying that the email came from online “cowards.” The Brackley-based team allegedly went as far as hiring a private investigator for the matter.

Mercedes may have refuted claim for both the email and the sabotage, however, there does still seem to be a notable shift happening at Mercedes. A deeper look into Mercedes since 2022 highlights this.

George Russell’s introductions

George Russell made his Formula One debut in 2019. He joined Williams as a Mercedes junior driver. The young Brit made a good impression. In his third season with the team, he managed to score Williams’ first points since the 2019 German Grand Prix. This was at the 2021 Hungarian Grand Prix.

The following race was the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix where Russell qualified in P2. On a rather dull race day where no racing whatsoever happened, Russell scored Williams’s first podium since the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The race was stopped after only two laps under safety car conditions, allowing most drivers to retain their qualifying position.

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Russell then scored back-to-back points at the 2021 Italian Grand Prix and at the 2021 Russian Grand Prix. His relentless drive to finish in the points allowed Williams to finish P8 in the Constructors’ Championship with 23 points.

His performances throughout 2019 and 2021 at Williams were impressive, and many around the motorsport world were asking questions about a possible move to Mercedes. The young Brit’s dream of being a Mercedes driver came to fruition eventually when he signed with Mercedes for the 2022 season.

A shock of a car

2022 was a new era. Not only for Formula One with the new regulations but for Mercedes as well. The Silver Arrows had a new driver lineup since 2017, with Russell replacing Valtteri Bottas who headed to Alfa Romeo (now Stake Sauber). It was also a new era for the team, as they went from being eight-time consecutive Constructors’ Champions from 2014 to 2021, to producing a car that struggled to even get on podiums for 2022.

Mercedes went with the bold move of not including the sidepod concept on their W13. With the Brackley-based team being considered a team with the most elite engineers in modern, it was expected that they would have made the zero-pod concept work.

However, when the season began, it came to light just how much Mercedes had got it wrong for F1’s new era. The W13 was uncompetitive.

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Guinea pig

Naturally, Mercedes were desperate to get back to the top.

The early parts of the season were very difficult for Mercedes. The car massively lacked in straight-line speed and massively struggled with porpoising as well.

During the early parts of the season, Lewis Hamilton would often carry the experiments for the team to collect data and make necessary adjustments and improvements to the car for future races. George Russell on the other hand would drive the spec without the experiments, and oftentimes, with the setup that proved to be better. As a result, Russell was able to get the best out of the W13, while Lewis Hamilton had to sacrifice his races. This was a large part of the reason Russell performed better than Hamilton in the first half of the season.

In the second part of the season, when the team were no longer conducting experiments, Hamilton looked like a strong driver again, often outperforming Russell as well.

The power shift

The decision to have Hamilton help the team with the experiments was one that made sense as it allowed Goerge Russell to get used to working in a new team. It was also advantageous for Mercedes because they got to receive feedback from their stronger driver who has more experience in the sport, and with the team.

However, later on, Hamilton confessed that the team did not in fact listen to him when it came to the development of their 2023 car.

“Last year [2022], there were things I told them. I said the issues that are with the car.

“I’ve driven so many cars in my life so I know what a car needs. I know what a car doesn’t need. I think it’s really about accountability. It’s about owning up and saying, ‘Yeah, you know what? We didn’t listen to you. It’s not where it needs to be and we’ve got to work’,” – Hamilton told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Chequered Flag podcast.

It was largely believed that what happened at the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix. Red Bull were the fastest car in the 2022 season, but as it naturally happens in F1, there’s usually a weekend where the fastest team struggles. The Brazilian GP was that for Red Bull in 2022. Mercedes ended up being the fastest team that weekend.

Russell won the sprint race and the grand prix, whilst Hamilton was P3 in the sprint and P2 in the grand prix. Mercedes went on to retire one car out of the following race – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix – whilst Russell finished P5 in a rather underwhelming car. That one-off win appeared to have given Mercedes confidence in their zeropod concept as they went on to continue with the same concept for the 2023 season, despite Hamilton’s advice.

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They ended up ditching the zeropod concept for the Monaco Grand Prix and beyond, choosing to take a new path for development for the remainder of the 2022 regulations era.

The allegations

This season, whenever Hamilton has a good start to the weekend, something seems to change during the last laps of qualifying. Hamilton has been dropping back by about two-tenths to Russell at most Q3 sessions this year. Hamilton then pointed out an issue with his tyre blankets at the Canadian Grand Prix.

“The tyres were working throughout the weekend, then we got to qualifying and every time I went out of the garage, my tyres were for some reason below on temperature.

“Every set was two or three degrees lower than it should have been, and you can’t catch it up and I couldn’t switch the tyres on after that. That’s something we have to really look at, because something went on with the blankets, I guess.”

The tyre blankets issue as well as the falling behind Russell by nearly two-tenths every Q3 session led to conspiracy theories flying around. People have claimed that Mercedes sabotaged Hamilton. A Mercedes employee allegedly sent an email confirming the conspiracy theories. However, Mercedes and Toto Wolff have since debunked this.

The pros and cons

Naturally though, conspiracy theories aside, at Mercedes, there has been a somewhat subtle power shift. Last season, for example, Hamilton’s strategies were often questionable, whilst Russell often got the better ones. This could be pure coincidence, but it did set a tone.

Lewis Hamilton performed better in the 2023 season, as he was no longer the guinea pig as such. He finished ahead of his teammate in the Drivers’ Championship. Hamilton was P3 in the standings, 59 points ahead of Russell who was P8.

The centurion often displayed performances that showed despite his age, he had not slowed down. Even now in the 2024 season, he is still proving to be one of the strongest drivers on the grid. Last weekend,he drove incredibly at the Spanish Grand Prix to get on the third spot of the podium behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull and Lando Norris’ McLaren.

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Not prioritising a 7-time world champion may not be the smartest of moves. Especially when said driver has helped bring 8 Constructors’ Championship titles to the team. However, with Hamilton set to leave the team for next season, there is some good motive to the situation.

As things stand, Russell is the future for Mercedes.

George Russell is now becoming the main man at Mercedes and I think that’s natural, he’s the future in regards to those two. He is the future.

It’s Formula 1 and the Formula 1 cars are really nuanced and because Mercedes have been chasing these struggles around with their cars, they’ve had to change things a lot, tweak things a lot, redesign cars midway through seasons and I think they’ve ended up in a place that seems to suit George’s driving style much more than it does Lewis’s.

That is fine because George is the one staying and I suspect if Lewis was staying, there’d be a bit more focus on trying to shift it back towards a Lewis type of style.

But I don’t see this as anything deeper, anything bigger than a natural shift towards the future of Mercedes, which lies in the hands of George Russell and not Lewis Hamilton. – former McLaren engineer and F124 voice actor Marc Priestley speaking to Lord Ping.

However, should Kimi Antonelli join Mercedes soon, things could change again for Mercedes. Both Antonelli and Russell have been/are a part of the Mercedes junior driver programme. Having both drivers on the team could see Mercedes balance the power dynamic more. However, should the team be more interested in their future with the young Italian, the power could shift more towards him.


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