The Japanese Grand Prix saw tensions arise between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and George Russell as the pair’s battle for intra-team supremacy continued.
One week on from Marina Bay where the pair were both in a position to clinch a first race victory of 2023 – while they fought for lower positions this weekend – their radio calls appeared higher in intensity.
The events have placed a spotlight on the driver’s relationship, as despite not being in attendance, Team principal Toto Wolff was forced to intervene during the race.
What could the Silver Arrows’ all-Brit rivalry mean for the team going forward?
Race day at Suzuka saw Hamilton start ahead of Russell for the first time since before F1’s summer break.
With their rivals appearing to have an Asian edge, the teammates found themselves close together throughout.
Coming close to contact when Russell passed Hamilton into the chicane five laps into the race, Hamilton responded immediately by picking up a slipstream down the pit straight and sweeping around the outside of turn one.
The move felt like something of a statement from the seven-time world champion who left Russell bemused by his straight-line speed advantage.
Battle lines would continue as Russell looked to capitalise on Hamilton’s mistake at the second Degner corner.
As a result, both drivers would run wide at Spoon Curve, as Russell voiced his frustration over team radio.
The incident was clearly in the front of the young Brit’s thinking when the pair met on track in the races’ closing stages.
Team order tension
With Mercedes opting to split their race strategy, Hamilton would close on Russell with fresher tyres during the closing stages in Japan.
Consequently, the pair were in danger of both losing a position to last week’s race winner Carlos Sainz.
Hamilton found himself being held up by his teammate for the second week running, eventually prompting a call from the team to reverse the positions.
Russell had requested that Hamilton aid him by staying close in front to provide a tow and DRS, a trick used against him in Singapore by Sainz.
However, Mercedes decided to overrule this request with Hamilton clearly feeling he had lost time and a potential shot at fourth place.
This is not the first time that Russell has attempted to assert his dominance by making unorthodox decisions and radio calls.
Zandvoort 2021 saw the Kings Lynn driver pit for fresh tyres, leaving Hamilton to defend the lead on worn rubber and eventually overtaking him on track.
Mercedes’ hope to challenge for race wins again next season but in-team issues might yet intervene.
In-house friction is no strange bedfellow to Mercedes in the past, and it could threaten to derail team progress.
Between 2023-2016, a strong dynamic between Hamilton and former teammate Nico Rosberg ended in acrimony as the two battled for the title.
As tensions boiled, friends became foes.
With a still green Russell looking to make his mark, whilst also seeking to secure his future as team leader, will history repeat itself?
Hamilton himself will be determined to re-claim the championship that he and many others felt was stolen from him in 2021.
For now, harmony remains, but as season reaches its climax over the coming weeks, the gloves at Mercedes could yet come off.
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