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Is Russell already getting the better of Hamilton at Mercedes?

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton are experiencing contrasting results as they battle to tame Mercedes' troubled car. RacingNews365.com's journalists debate whether it's a case of Russell simply driving better, Hamilton hitting trouble, or a bit of both.

With four rounds of the new F1 season behind us, Mercedes driver George Russell (49) has scored significantly more points than his seven-time World Champion teammate Lewis Hamilton (28). Russell has proven himself to be one of the sport's most consistent performers, placing fourth, fifth, third and fourth thus far, all while Hamilton has placed inside the top five only twice. Amongst Hamilton's results have been a 10th-place finish in Saudi Arabia and a 13th-place finish at Imola, with the latter being the first time he has qualified outside the top 10 and taken the chequered flag outside the top 10 since the 2009 British Grand Prix. But is Russell excelling at Mercedes this season, or is Hamilton struggling? Or is it a bit of both? RacingNews365.com 's journalists weigh in on the debate...

Mike Seymour: Being on top right now isn't what matters

Although they aren't fighting at the front of the F1 field, how the Russell/Hamilton dynamic plays out from here has to be one of the most intriguing sub-plots of the season. First up, and credit where credit is due, Russell has adapted to his new - albeit not entirely new - surroundings in fine style, making it into Q3 three times out of four and placing in the top five on race day from Bahrain to Imola, despite Mercedes' well-documented car issues. He's done so by making the most of every opportunity on track and carrying himself as well as ever off it, whether speaking to the media or, as per team boss Toto Wolff, giving the detailed feedback required to help Mercedes get out of the mess they find themselves in. On the face of it, with 49 points to Hamilton's 28, Russell has come into the seven-time World Champion's team and signalled a changing of the guard. But that would be far too simplistic an evaluation, and the championship standings don't tell the full story. In Saudi Arabia, Hamilton went down a set-up rabbit hole, and in Australia, he was ahead of Russell until the Safety Car came out and flipped their positions. In Bahrain, Hamilton had the measure over Russell all weekend, and in Imola, it was the other way around – where Russell's fast start on Sunday was key to escaping the DRS train that Hamilton found himself in. It's clear that Russell is performing well, but there simply haven't been enough race weekends - and clean ones for both drivers at that - to declare him as Mercedes' new leading light and Hamilton as a veteran who has lost his way. And, as Russell has said, while it is always positive to be ahead of your teammate, it doesn't matter as much when the rewards are relatively small. It will be if/when the car is capable of fighting for pole positions and victories that it counts.

Anna Francis: Don't write Hamilton off yet

If there is anything we have learned so far at this early stage of the 2022 season, it's that things can change very quickly in Formula 1. McLaren had a disastrous weekend at the opening event in Bahrain, but just weeks later claimed a double points finish and then a podium on top of that. The less said about Haas' 2021 campaign the better, yet now the team have scored points at three out of four races this year. Charles Leclerc was being hailed for a near-perfect drive in Australia; fast-forward two weeks to the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, and a big mistake from the Monegasque has led to questions about whether he crumbled under the pressure. Situations - and perspectives - can rapidly evolve in this sport, and as such I think this could be applied to the scenario at Mercedes. Yes, Russell has mostly had better weekends so far this season than Hamilton, but it is far too soon to suggest that Hamilton is in trouble. It would only take one spectacular drive from the 37-year-old for the view on what is going on at the Silver Arrows to be turned on its head. This may be stating the obvious, but a driver does not become a seven-time World Champion for nothing, and I find it hard to believe that Hamilton won't be able to fight back. It is interesting to consider whether, at this stage, Russell is simply more attuned to driving a difficult car, given his prior three years spent battling with an underperforming Williams at the back of the field. For Hamilton, it has been a long time since he has been faced with such a challenging piece of equipment. Perhaps it is just taking him longer to adjust to this reality. Mercedes clearly have a job on their hands in improving the issues with the W13, and consequently it may be difficult for Hamilton to maintain morale. But, with 19 races remaining, it is much too early to write his chances off, both in the battle against Russell and in a wider sense.

Thomas Maher: Hamilton will come alive during the season

Four races into the 2022 season, it's clear that Russell is maximising the W13 package to a greater extent than Hamilton appears capable of at this point. Russell is used to scrapping away in the lower midfield, with three years toiling in a recalcitrant Williams and doing his utmost to get anywhere near the points places. It's perhaps this quality that's helping him significantly at this point of the season. While the Mercedes is probably their worst offering in a decade, it's still a step forward from the machinery Russell has been used to. It's the opposite situation for Hamilton. After spending eight years with a car that was either the class of the field, or a match of it, it's a big bump back down to earth for Hamilton, as the car simply won't do the things he's become so accustomed to. This difference in mindset, with Russell used to 'the grind' of the midfield far more so than Hamilton, is likely what's causing the performance difference between the pair at this point. But it would be foolish to say that Hamilton won't bounce back quickly. While used to driving superior machinery, Hamilton has proven to be one of the very best in the business at adaptation in the past. Although he and the W13 haven't immediately clicked, there's little doubt that he will start exploiting it to its fullest as the season progresses. Hamilton's statistic of winning a race in every season he's competed in since 2007 is under threat this year, but my gut feeling is he will manage to clinch a victory later in the season. Russell's consistency, as the only driver to finish in the top five at every race so far, may result in him coming out on top of the teammate battle overall over the season, but Hamilton will claim the higher highs as well as the lower lows.

Tom Leach: That time will come, but not yet

Let's have a little perspective here: Hamilton last stood on the top step of a podium just five races ago and has twice placed inside the top three since. He is one of only three men, Leclerc and Max Verstappen included, to have won an F1 race in the last six months. He has not fallen from the face of the earth. Alas, in 2022, he finds himself well out of the title fight and behind his younger teammate, Russell, a driver who comfortably outmuscled Valtteri Bottas during their one race in equal machinery. But with Hamilton low in the standings, there will always come questions – he is, after all, undoubtedly the sport's biggest name. Russell has appeared consistent, scoring healthy points at every race weekend. Meanwhile, Hamilton, statistically the sport's greatest-ever qualifier, has struggled on Saturdays and has twice faded away on Sundays. But he has so far held valid excuses for his poor weekends, be that misjudged qualifying set-up gambles, overheating or race day traffic standing in his way. Hamilton finished ahead of Russell in Bahrain and, after going toe-to-toe with Sergio Perez's much-faster Red Bull in Australia, only wound up behind his teammate due to a badly-timed Safety Car. There is no doubt that the time will come when Hamilton fails to keep pace with a younger, sharper teammate - that may well prove to be Russell; that may well prove to be this year - but for now, Mercedes will care more about learning all they can about their car as they look to close the gap at the front. Just months on from Hamilton's incredible end to the 2021 season, it would be remiss to suggest that the 37-year-old is anything short of the all-time great he proved himself to be in his battle with Verstappen.

Michael Butterworth: It's still too early to tell

Even the most ardent Russell acolyte would have been hard-pressed to see the Briton outscoring teammate Hamilton by 49 points to 28 after four rounds of the 2022 F1 season. Graduating to Mercedes after three seasons learning his trade with Williams, this was supposed to be a learning year for Russell, in which he would acclimatise to the sharp end of the grid before assuming Hamilton's mantle as team leader when the seven-time World Champion decides to hang up his helmet. But while Mercedes are having to manage expectations over the sub-standard performance of their W13, Russell is giving the lie to naysayers who suggested Hamilton would blow him out of the water, and is the only driver to finish in the top five in every race so far this season. A closer look at both drivers' first four races suggests that they may be slightly closer in performance than the points tally suggests. The yawning gap between the two at Imola was partly down to Russell gaining places when others tangled on Lap 1, while the King's Lynn native vaulted Hamilton at Albert Park thanks to a fortunately-timed Safety Car. And though Russell was, on his Mercedes debut, edged by Hamilton in Bahrain, the younger man comprehensively outperformed his illustrious teammate next time out in Jeddah. But four races is far too small a sample size to draw a definitive conclusion as to whether Russell is overachieving or Hamilton is struggling, and there are mitigating circumstances to explain away Hamilton's points deficit. Far more telling will be how the two drivers measure up when - or if - Mercedes provide them with a car capable of challenging at the front of the pack.

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