A lot was expected of Russell following his move from Williams at the end of last season. However, few might have expected the 24-year-old would lead his colleague and boast almost twice Hamilton’s points tally after five races this campaign.
And yet Toto Wolff has refused to acknowledge speculation suggesting seven-time world champion Hamilton is now the No. 2 at Brackley. F1 figures like Ralf Schumacher and Jacques Villeneuve have suggested Russell is clearly the superior driver at present, but the Mercedes team chief is far more diplomatic in his view.
“I hardly follow it,” Wolff told Austrian daily Osterreich. “And if I overhear one or the other comment, I can only smile about it. George is doing a good job, but that’s exactly what we expected from him, that’s why he’s at Mercedes. I don’t notice anything about it on the team. These are background noises played through the press. Lewis and George push each other.”
Like his team-mate, Russell has managed just one podium finish so far this season after placing third in Melbourne. Hamilton’s sole top-three result came at the season-opener in Bahrain, but his new comrade has placed ahead of him in every race since then.
With only one year left on his Mercedes contract, there have even been suggestions Hamilton could leave the manufacturer early. Ferrari and and Red Bull have been only too happy to pounce while the dominant power in recent F1 campaigns has faltered early on this season.
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Flaws in Mercedes’ W13 design were evident in pre-season and continue to plague their campaign under new guidelines. Wolff has sympathised with his drivers in the past and conceded a title challenge looks unlikely, with fourth-placed Russell already 45 points below leader Charles Leclerc.
“We still don’t understand our car,” added Wolff. “At Friday training in Miami, we had a really good day and were among the fastest. Suddenly everything was different again on Saturday. Minimal changes in the setup have a big impact.”
Both Hamilton and Russell travel to Barcelona for Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix hoping a first win of 2022 will revitalise their prospects. Their personal competition for places has packed punch thus far, but Wolff maintains the pair are level-pegging.