Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and George Russell clashed, sparking concerns after a tense outing in Japan.
However, Mercedes has sought to downplay the incident, describing it as a “heat of the moment” issue that will be addressed calmly in the post-race debrief.
Hamilton and Russell have, for the most part, maintained a cooperative relationship since the 25-year-old Russell joined the Silver Arrows at the beginning of 2022.
However, during the race at Suzuka, emotions ran high, and a brief but intense clash between the two drivers nearly escalated into a physical altercation.
Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff acknowledged the incident but remained optimistic about resolving any conflicts.
He stated, “Anything that needs tidying up or discussing afterwards, we’ll be able to do away from that pressure cooker and nice and calmly in the debrief.”
The first flashpoint of the race occurred when Russell attempted to pass Hamilton on the inside at the final chicane during the early laps.
Hamilton successfully defended his position, holding off Russell as they entered Turn 1.
The tension escalated when Hamilton made a rare mistake at the second Degner, running wide and allowing Russell to close in on his gearbox, looking for an opportunity to make a move around the outside of the Spoon Curve.
In a defensive move reminiscent of Max Verstappen’s actions during the 2021 Brazilian GP, Hamilton aggressively manoeuvred his car, forcing both drivers outside of the white lines.
Russell questioned the nature of their competition, rhetorically asking whether they were fighting each other or their rivals.
The final incident of the day unfolded after Russell’s one-stop strategy faltered, and he found himself being caught by Hamilton and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.
Russell proposed a tactical plan to trap Sainz in a DRS (Drag Reduction System) train, on the condition that he would let Hamilton pass on the final lap.
Despite Russell’s persistence, he was eventually instructed to switch positions, a process that took over three minutes.
Mercedes then instructed Hamilton to reduce his pace to keep Russell within DRS range, with the intention of allowing Russell to fend off Sainz.
However, this strategy did not pan out as expected, and Hamilton maintained a slight gap, narrowly securing his position ahead of the Spanish driver at the finish line.
Both drivers have since acknowledged that the tensions on the track were a result of intense competition and circumstantial frustrations.
Hamilton explained his perspective on the attempted DRS trap at Suzuka, stating, “When they suggested it to me, I knew they were obviously thinking about it because of the previous race, but it didn’t make sense.
“I was about two seconds ahead, and they then asked me to give George DRS.
“So I had to let off the gas on the straight to leave him 0.8 seconds behind, then he had DRS but was still overtaken.
“That had to happen because he was on one stop and we on a two.”