Toto Wolff makes excuse for Lewis Hamilton struggling against George Russell

George Russell became just the third team-mate of Lewis Hamilton to beat him in the Drivers' Championship last season.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has stressed that he would “never allow” an inter-team rivalry to affect the Brackley-based team, with many predicting that 2023 could see Lewis Hamilton versus George Russell for the championship.

Should the Germans have a competitive car this year, then it would be safe to assume that Hamilton and Russell would both be involved in the title fight, certainly after a frustrating 2022 campaign.

Mercedes designed a disappointing car last season that experienced several problems, most notably, porpoising.

Interestingly, despite having considerably less experience than the seven-time World Champion, Russell performed better in the challenging W13, and actually ended the season above the 38-year-old.

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Wolff puts this down to the two drivers having been in very different cars in 2021, with Russell having been a backmarker with Williams, whereas Hamilton was fighting for the title.

“Lewis is the best driver of all time along with Michael Schumacher in his Ferrari days,” he told Auto Motor und Sport.

“I would see Lewis and George on a par in 2022.

“George got out of a car that was certainly difficult to drive. He got into one that was certainly difficult to drive as well.

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“Lewis went from a perfect car to the W13. So he had to adapt a lot. We had races where George was stronger and races where Lewis was stronger.

“But it wasn’t about who scored more points and beat the other. It was about developing a car together that was capable of winning.

“Both have great respect for each other. And both recognise the other’s performance. That’s a good constellation.”

It’s expected that Mercedes will be considerably better in 2023, with the speculation being that the Germans have solved and, most importantly, fixed the issues that ridiculed the W13.

The team’s 2023 challenger, the W14, looks set to be a much more Mercedes-esque car, which Russell and Hamilton will be hoping to win the title in.

Some have suggested that 2023 could see a repeat of Hamilton against Nico Rosberg; however, Wolff isn’t going to let a “rivalry” between his two drivers this year “damage the team”.

“A good dynamic between the drivers also depends on what the management sets them,” he said.

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“What framework conditions we set for them. And how the drivers interact with each other in terms of respect.

“I think we are in a good starting position because both drivers respect each other. Respect each other humanly.

“We accept that there can be a rivalry between our drivers. But this rivalry must never degenerate into a conflict that could damage the team. I would never allow that. I have never allowed that either.”