“Embarrassing for Mercedes”: Toto Wolff’s Favoritism for Lewis Hamilton Over George Russell Lands Him in Hot Waters
Imagine this. You’re a Formula 1 team principal, and you’ve taken the week off to undergo knee surgery. You’ve left people in charge who you know are more than capable of holding the fort down. Turns out, what’s threatening your team isn’t an external force. Instead, it’s your own drivers fighting against each other when so much hangs on the line. With an impending implosion in sight, you have no option but to step in and make things right. This is precisely what happened with Toto Wolff and his two more-than-competent drivers—Lewis Hamilton and George Russell—at the Japanese GP.
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A few weeks ago, Mercedes was practically under no threat of losing its stronghold on P2 in the championship. Since the summer break, Ferrari has picked up its performance and made a huge dent in Mercedes’ lead. As much as Ferrari is proving a problem, the rivalry between Mercedes’ drivers could be a bigger one. When Russell joined Hamilton at Mercedes last season, everyone expected sparks to fly between them. While that didn’t happen in 2022, the past two races have made up for lost time.
Fireworks erupted in the Mercedes garage at the Japanese GP
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At the Japanese GP, both Ferraris qualified ahead of the W14s. With Hamilton in P7 and Russell in P8, the teammates fought each other on track more than once—all instances came scarily close to at least one of them not finishing the race. The race should’ve been a two-stopper, and it was for everyone but George Russell. After making just one stop, Russell was in P5 toward the end of the race, with Hamilton and Carlos Sainz chasing him down. That’s when Mercedes had to intervene.
The two Mercedes are still squabbling
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 24, 2023
Hamilton was clearly the faster driver, considering he was on fresher tires. With Ferrari’s race pace better than the Mercedes’, the Brit was under threat from Sainz, and Russell was only putting Hamilton more at risk. When the team asked Russell to let Hamilton through, he didn’t budge. As per a tweet by @fiagirly, “Toto Wolff was the one who insisted that Russell let Hamilton through in the closing stages when the strategists were debating whether to order a reversal of the cars or agree to Russell’s request that Hamilton stay behind until the last lap.”
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Even after Russell’s engineer told him to give the place to Hamilton, the young Brit suggested they do it on the last lap instead of on Lap 49. He said so to save himself from being overtaken by Sainz. Toto Wolff felt it would be bad for Hamilton and proved his favoritism toward the seven-time champion. Russell was told, “This is an instruction, George.” An instruction straight from the boss. Seeing how Hamilton was faster, Mercedes fans didn’t appreciate Russell’s antics and called him out for it on X.
Lewis Hamilton & Co.’s doom is “rookie” George Russell
Last time out in Singapore, the situation was quite similar. Other than fighting for P5, Mercedes was fighting for the win. In the race’s closing stages, Hamilton was faster but, again, behind Russell. The young Brit eventually ended up in the wall, and Hamilton had to settle for P3. The thing is, many believe that had Russell let Hamilton through, the seven-time champion could’ve won the race. Last week and this week’s antics combined, Russell has landed himself in hot waters among the Mercedes fanbase.
Since Russell joined Mercedes, he’s always been alluding to the fact that he’s a team player. The Japanese GP made fans think otherwise, and they called him out for it.
I’m so over George playing the “it’s for the team” when he’s told to switch positions and refuses. He just cares about finishing ahead of Lewis. If he’d have let Lewis through immediately, maybe Lewis in clean air gets closer to Leclerc and isn’t defending so hard from Sainz.
— Steven Beck (@beingbecks78) September 24, 2023
Every driver cares about finishing ahead of their teammate, but fans think Russell takes it too far sometimes. It makes them wonder if he has some clause in his contract stating he has to beat Hamilton.
There's got to be some bonus in GR's contract or something for finishing ahead of LH in a race. Why else would he got so out of his way to hinder LH when GR's the slower car. It's happened in the last two races and is not acceptable for the team's objectives.
— pauline mcc 🏴 (@paulinemcc) September 24, 2023
Mercedes’ primary objective in 2023 is to secure P2. With Russell’s crash in Singapore and his on-track battles and ignored orders at Suzuka, that place is at risk. Fans hope he realizes that he needs to drive for the team now rather than himself.
I hope is will not be too late for George Russell to understand the difference between speed and management. Formula 1 is not a drag race, but a long marathon in circles. He need to look within himself & improve, if not he will continue to lose points & DNFs
— Crown Bird 🦚 (@OkinBird) September 24, 2023
As heart-wrenching as that missed opportunity in Singapore was for him, Russell lost crucial points for Mercedes. Considering Hamilton got the better result there and in Japan, fans believe Russell needs to understand that Lewis is the No.1.
if mercedes don’t fix up and make it known that lewis is their number 1 driver it’s only gonna get worse from next season when theres gonna be important moments where george is needed to support or invert places but he won’t do it… n it’ll have a huge impact.
— diya (@xotoftime) September 24, 2023
Russell’s decisions can quite literally make or break Mercedes’ opportunities. His battles against Hamilton made fans believe he’s still a rookie compared to the ever-experienced Lewis Hamilton.
And people wonder why the Mighty Mercedes has fallen so hard, they choose to listen to a rookie, lol!
— Amric (Head Of The Table). (@Amric07) September 24, 2023
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With several blows directed at Russell, one fan called out the Mercedes strategists for not making the decision themselves. Why did Toto Wolff have to step in?
It's slightly embarrassing for the Mercedes strategists that Toto needed to step in. This should have been an easy call for them but somehow they still managed to nearly trip over themselves.
— F1_Following (@F1_Following) September 24, 2023
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