Mercedes open up on ‘protecting’ Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes drivers George Russell and Lewis Hamilton clashed on multiple occasions at the 2023 Japanese GP.

Mercedes’ head of trackside engineering Andrew Shovlin has revealed why George Russell was instructed to let Lewis Hamilton past in the closing laps of last weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix.

The Silver Arrows struggled in Suzuka last weekend and were a distant fourth in the pecking order, comfortably behind Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari.

Hamilton and Russell started the race in seventh and eighth, but immediately dropped to eighth and ninth after the pair were overtaken by Fernando Alonso.

The Mercedes duo spent more time battling each other than their opposition in Japan, with their first of three duels having taken place in the opening few laps.

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Russell pulled off a great move on Hamilton at the chicane on the final sector, before the 103-time race winner immediately got the position back down the start/finish straight thanks to having DRS.

Their duel then settled for a few laps, only for an error by Hamilton to give Russell a second sniff.

Hamilton ran wide at Turn 9 which gave Russell the chance to close through Turns 10 and 11, with the pair then going side by side through Turn 12.

Hamilton held the inside line as they approached Spoon, although the 38-year-old went wide again, forcing both drivers off the circuit.

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Russell fumed over the radio and asked who the team were battling, resulting in the 25-year-old being switched from a two-stop to a one-stop strategy.

This saw the ex-Williams driver move towards the front of the field as most drivers pitted for their second pit-stop later in the race; however, his older tyres caused him to tumble down the field.

He eventually found his mirrors full of Hamilton, who was one of the drivers on fresher tyres.

The pair battled for several laps and lost significant time, with Carlos Sainz having been able to catch the pair.

Eventually, Mercedes instructed Russell to give his position to Hamilton, with Shovlin revealing afterwards that it was done “to protect” the seven-time World Champion from Sainz so that the Brit could make the most of his fresher tyres.

“We made some changes ahead of FP2 and gathered some useful learnings,” he told Mercedes’ in-house media, as reported by “But we’re clearly not strong enough in the faster corners.”

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“It was a difficult strategy to pull off but George did a great job,” he added.

“Given the tyre degradation, we had to protect Lewis from losing the position as he was more likely to finish ahead. Therefore, instructions were given to invert the cars.”

Hamilton ended up finishing fifth ahead of Sainz in sixth, who got past Russell who settled for P7.