McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo believes that George Russell is showing just how good he is at Mercedes this year, and that Sir Lewis Hamilton has not lost any of his ability.
Hamilton and Russell have not been dealt the easiest hand at Mercedes this season, losing bags of time to Ferrari and Red Bull due to an aerodynamic concept that has not quite clicked yet, and a “porpoising” phenomenon that has plagued them physically.
The “porpoising” became bouncing after it was solved in Spain and the Silver Arrows began running a lower ride height, and it got so bad last weekend in Baku that Hamilton hobbled out of his car with intense back pain.
Ricciardo himself said he was “rattled” by the impact with the track surface on the long home straight in Azerbaijan, so he got a rough idea of how the seven-time champion was feeling, and it was not a pleasant experience.
“There was talk about Lewis after the race,” he told the Daily Mail.
“I saw some of his on-boards, I saw pictures of him getting out of the car and stretching his back, and he wasn’t exaggerating. It really was uncomfortable.
“The good thing is that it is very visible. If you have the car’s audio, you can hear it jumping and bouncing, and from the images, you can see the helmet is moving around, too.
“It is not normal or comfortable. The position we sit in the car, we don’t have much room to move so we are not prepared for the impacts.
“If that is up to a rule change, or the way the teams are setting up the cars, I am not 100 per cent sure. But I wouldn’t like anyone to go through any unnecessary injury or pain.
“We have spoken about it throughout the season, but with Baku being such a big one, I am sure it will get discussed in the drivers’ briefing on Friday.”
Indeed, the FIA have acted ahead of this weekend by introducing a metric whereby the teams are only allowed a certain amount of bouncing before they are required to raise the ride height of the cars.
This is in a bid to improve driver welfare, but with multiple teams potentially having to slightly raise their ride heights as a result of the directive, it could begin to bring Mercedes back into play from a performance standpoint.
Of course, it could also go the other way and put them even further behind Red Bull and Ferrari, so that will be an interesting prospect.
Hamilton has been out-raced in all of the last seven by Russell, who now leads the qualifying battle 5-3 in what has been a terrific debut year in silver and black for the 24-year-old so far.
Ricciardo affirms that this is a sign of how good Russell is, not that Hamilton has declined in any way.
“I definitely think Lewis is as capable as ever,” added the Australian.
“We all knew George was quick, and it was just how quick is he? How good is he? And he is proving he is very good.
“But I also wouldn’t count Lewis out for having the ability to win this weekend for example. I don’t think he has lost anything, no, not at all.”
Russell finished third in Azerbaijan on Sunday ahead of Hamilton in fourth, while Ricciardo scored points in a race for the first time since Melbourne when he ended the grand prix eighth just in front of ninth-placed team-mate Lando Norris.