Wolff responds to claim that Russell is Mercedes’ number one driver

Jacques Villeneuve has taken aim at Sir Lewis Hamilton in recent weeks amid Mercedes' struggles.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has reiterated that Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell and on equal standing at the team after 1997 Jacques Villeneuve suggested otherwise.

Hamilton has out-qualified Russell three times in the opening five rounds of the 2022 season, but the 24-year-old has out-performed the seven-time champion in all of the last four rounds, although a couple of those can be attributed to fortunately timed Safety Cars.

The new technical regulations have set the Silver Arrows on the back foot since the start of the year, and third is the best result they have managed, with Hamilton finishing behind the Ferraris in Bahrain before Russell grabbed P3 in Melbourne.

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Their dreadful weekend epitomised the erratic nature of the W13, and despite an improved performance in Miami, they were still a long way adrift of the leading two teams.

Villeneuve has previously stated that Hamilton is “not coping at all” with the acclimatisation to life in the midfield, and reckons that Russell is now the lead driver after his recent performances.

“I think we have seen the final changing of the guard at Mercedes,” he said.

“George Russell is riding the wave, Lewis Hamilton is trying not to drown. After many years of winning without competition, it’s hard to wake up and realise it’s not that easy.”

Wolff had no time for the remark, adding that, while Russell has done an outstanding job, Hamilton has done just the same, and the pair are working collaboratively to push the team forward.

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“I hardly follow it,” he told the Osterreich Newspaper.

“And if I overhear one or the other comment, I can only smile about it. George is doing a good job, but that’s exactly what we expected from him, that’s why he’s at Mercedes.

“I don’t notice anything about it on the team. These are background noises played through the press. Lewis and George push each other.”

The 50-year-old has previously described the 2022 car as a “diva,” but Russell affirmed that the issues are slightly more profound than that.

“[The performance is] there; we just need to try and unlock it. Toto’s throwing the word diva around a lot, but I think that’s a bit of an understatement because it’s so unpredictable,” said the Briton.

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“When the thing just starts bouncing in the corners, it’s a killer to drive. [In the race] it wasn’t as bad; when you’re not in your full quali mode, you’re not going quite as quick, but it certainly wasn’t great.”

Mercedes are 62 points behind leaders Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship, but head to Barcelona this weekend with an array of upgrades that they hope will propel them closer to the front.