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George Russell

How much of a headache will Russell give Hamilton at Mercedes?

The new pairing of Lewis Hamilton and George Russell at Mercedes adds another fascinating element to the 2022 F1 season. Our journalists give their predictions on how the dynamic might play out.

Russell Hamilton Spa Belgium 2021
To news overview © Mercedes

There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Formula 1 in 2022. Not only will a new technical era begin thanks to the wave of regulation changes being introduced into the sport, but there is also going to be a different driver line-up at Mercedes for the first time since 2017.

George Russell makes the step up from Williams to replace Valtteri Bottas, and faces the task of having seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton as his teammate. Both have shared positive statements about one another via the press, but how will the dynamic actually play out once the visors come down?

The RacingNews365.com team have given their predictions on who might have the upper hand.

Thomas Maher: Hamilton will have it his own way

There's no doubt in my mind that George Russell has what it takes to become one of F1's leading lights in the not-too-distant future. His performances, when the car has allowed him, have been immense and his dismantling of Valtteri Bottas at Sakhir in 2020 despite his lack of preparation showed just how capable he can be.

That being said, I don't expect Russell to be a match for Hamilton in 2022. Hamilton is as formidable as ever, with no signs just yet that he's past his peak. His raw speed hasn't dipped, but it's in his relentless race pace that I believe Hamilton will have clear authority over Russell across the coming season.

While Hamilton did make the occasional error under the pressure of trying to beat Max Verstappen in 2021, the Hamilton that appeared in the final races of last year was, arguably, the seven-time World Champion at a level we haven't seen before.

Hamilton will be eager to underline to Mercedes that he's still top dog during 2022, and I expect him to set out to crush Russell over the course of the campaign. Having got used to an obedient and passive Bottas over the past five years, I don't expect Russell to be quite as subservient as the Finn, but the fact that he's of a different generation means that he may decide not to be quite as much of a thorn in Hamilton's side as Nico Rosberg was.

Looking back to the 2007 season when Hamilton and Fernando Alonso squared off at McLaren, I'm not expecting similar fireworks this year. Russell has shown his patience over the past three years, and I believe he'll be content to bide his time while he finds his feet over the course of 2022 – ready to start turning up the heat in 2023 after ironing out some of the weaknesses he'll discover as an expected front-runner this year.

Of course, there will likely be flashpoints over the season – Russell is out to show Mercedes that he's their man for the future and will want to get on with the winning if the machinery allows. The first time that he doesn't yield quickly enough, or simply proves to be the quicker man on race day, is going to cause ructions at Mercedes as Hamilton has to handle a very different dynamic while also, potentially, having the likes of Red Bull and Ferrari being interlopers in their battle.

I'm predicting that Russell will prove a constant annoyance to Hamilton in qualifying, perhaps even winning that battle outright, but Hamilton will be the more consistent achiever on race day. I also believe that Russell will have one or two clangers during races, simply due to the pressures of adjusting to life near the front of Formula 1. But, provided the car is of sufficient standard, it's hard to look past a Hamilton/Russell combination delivering another Constructors' title for Mercedes.

			© Williams F1
	© Williams F1

Mike Seymour: Russell's approach will cause Hamilton problems

I remember meeting Russell for the first time at the 2016 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and walking away from our conversation feeling convinced that he would be one of F1's future stars. At that point, it was a simple introduction as Britain's latest up-and-coming racer set foot in the paddock, but his focus and determination to succeed - along with a highly professional off-track demeanour that is now well-documented - shone brightly from the get-go.

A few weeks later, he would be an official Mercedes junior and, from there, the ascent was rapid – GP3 champion, Formula 2 champion and, then, F1 driver.

For me, one of the most exciting elements of the 2022 season is the potential for the final member of the sport's next generation of super-talented drivers to step forward and take some of the limelight (providing Mercedes come up with the goods). While fellow youngsters Max Verstappen, Lando Norris and Charles Leclerc quickly found themselves in competitive cars, Russell has been forced to bide his time towards the back of the field.

By going up against a proven, seven-time World Champion in Hamilton, the 23-year-old now has an opportunity to make the biggest impact of them all. What more of a statement could there be than to effectively dethrone one of the greatest drivers in F1 history within the same team?

Sure, that's a tall order, and Russell is by no means the finished article. But he's learned plenty at Williams over the last three seasons. After the team's torrid 2019 campaign, which was spent cut off at the back of the grid, 2020 and 2021 have been much improved, giving him an opportunity to show what he can do – mostly through his eye-catching qualifying efforts.

Russell arguably made the biggest impression during his stand-in performance for Mercedes at the 2020 Sakhir GP, replacing his unwell future teammate. Although he struggled to fit in the car, wore shoes that were too small and had a whole host of new systems to get used to, Russell still qualified within a whisker of Valtteri Bottas (more than a match for Hamilton on his day) and would have won had it not been for misfortune late in the race. If anybody in the paddock had any doubts over his ability, that day should have erased them.

Rather than dwell on the disappointment, Russell has used it as energy and believes he is a much stronger driver as a result. The pace is there, the mental capacity is there and, with more than 50 starts to his name, a solid level of experience is there – not to mention that he has been embedded in the Mercedes camp for several years. All of these factors should put him in a very good place as he steps up for 2022, and more than capable of putting up a fight.

Hamilton will be a tough nut to crack, but Russell's outright pace and intelligence are sure to put him there or thereabouts. I fully expect him to cause problems in qualifying and, given his Sakhir display, see no reasons why that cannot translate to race days.

Whether Mercedes will be happy to let the pair battle it out remains to be seen...

			© Mercedes
	© Mercedes

Anna Francis: Hamilton/Russell line-up too close to call

For me, the line-up of Russell and Hamilton brings back memories of another occasion where a young, up-and-coming driver was given a step up and paired with a very established World Champion. Funnily enough, the youngster in the previous scenario was in fact Hamilton.

I am of course talking about the perhaps slightly infamous 2007 season, where the rookie Hamilton joined McLaren alongside Alonso, who arrived at the team off the back of winning two consecutive titles with Renault. The story of the off-track drama that occured during this year is well known, and Alonso in particular has discussed various aspects of it on more than one occasion.

However, looking at what happened in terms of actual racing, Hamilton and Alonso were incredibly well-matched on results. Each took four wins during the campaign, and ultimately ended the year on absolutely equal points, with both missing out on the title to Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen by just one point. The fact that both drivers managed to achieve this is quite impressive, given that each was new to McLaren and Hamilton was of course a rookie.

There were probably some fans who, prior to the season beginning, had expected the more experienced Alonso to dominate, or maybe there were those already aware of Hamilton's talent displayed in junior categories that tipped the Briton from the off. Yet, in reality, it was extremely close between the pair.

Obviously, there are some differences between this situation and that of Russell and Hamilton. Russell is not a rookie, and is in fact already familiar with Mercedes, having been a part of their Junior Driver Programme since 2017. As for Hamilton, he has far surpassed the level of experience that Alonso had back in 2007, and is on paper the most successful Formula 1 driver in history.

But still, there are definite shades of the Hamilton/Alonso line-up in terms of the level of talent possessed by each driver, and the stages of their career that each is at. Perhaps, then, there is the possibility of the Russell/Hamilton battle playing out in similar way on track, with the fight ultimately too close to call.

Additionally, relations away from the circuit between the new Mercedes duo seem to be harmonious for the time being. Russell has been full of praise for Hamilton, who he has called "the greatest of all time", whilst Hamilton has said that he hopes to have a "positive influence" on his younger teammate, who he "really wants" to see succeed.

Maybe the difference to the Alonso/Hamilton situation is that Hamilton and Russell could manage to maintain a more amicable relationship, which could also enable both to help each other and ultimately create a stronger - and more equal - team.

Whether this is feasible in reality, who knows. But, in terms of on-track results, I think there could be very narrow margins between the Mercedes drivers in 2022.

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