George Russell has described his intense battle with Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton as ‘hard but fair’ despite tensions growing over the team radio at the Japanese Grand Prix.
Mercedes locked out the fourth row of the grid on Saturday, but came close to losing Lewis Hamilton from the running on the opening lap after a coming together with Sergio Perez.
The Mercedes pair fought closely in the opening stages of the race as Russell launched an attack on Hamilton at the final chicane. Russell claimed seventh, but Hamilton would reclaim the position with a sweeping move around the outside of Turn 1.
The battle was reignited when Hamilton ran off-track at Degner 2, allowing Russell to challenge the seven-time world champion on the run towards the Spoon Curve. The pair ran side-by-side through the long left-hander, but it was Hamilton who held position as Russell ran wide.
“I viewed it as good hard racing. Thankfully we were in a position to put him [Hamilton] under pressure and making the moves on him. I was happy with them, so I’ll take the positives from that,” Russell said in response to the battle with Hamilton.
“The pace of the car my side I thought was quite strong considering how difficult the tyres were to drive this weekend. It’s just hard, fair racing. Of course we lost a bit of overall time fighting one another, and again you get a bit frustrated on the radio but it’s something that’s a part of racing.”
Both of us lost time to the cars around us. We aren’t going to give up the position easily to one another, it was still early on in the race and I had more pace but he was the car who was ahead.
“As I said, part of racing and there’s nothing to discuss [with the team]. We’ve got bigger fish to fry which is how do we make our car faster.”
Russell raced as high as second place on Sunday as Mercedes gambled on a one-stop strategy with its driver. However, it would not pay off as he was swiftly passed by both McLarens before also falling into the clutches of the Ferraris and Hamilton on fresher rubber.
Charles Leclerc swept past on Lap 45 before Russell was instructed to invert position with Hamilton, who was facing pressure from Carlos Sainz, on Lap 49.
“I’ll take the positives away from this race,” Russell added. “A three-stop was closer to optimal than a one-stop yet we made a one-stop possible and it wasn’t like Piastri flew past us.
“It took him two laps, he only just overtook us by the end of the straight. Charles, perhaps I could have held onto the position, so considering the pace of the car, I was glad we rolled the dice and P5 and P7 is a fair result.”
Swapping positions with Hamilton was not an entirely straightforward affair as Russell had asked to hold position until the final lap.
However, the Brackley side instead instructed Russell to allow Hamilton to pass with his tyre advantage in the hope of using the DRS to defend against Sainz in a similar defensive strategy to that of the Ferrari driver in Singapore.
The attempt proved futile, though, as Sainz would soon pass with relative ease.
“Of course it’s difficult for the team to judge. But as I said, I’ve got one goal which is to finish P2 in the Constructor’s championship for the team,” Russell outlined.
“We use the radio as a bit of a release valve because it’s so hot in the car, it’s a long race, you’re there pushing for an hour and a half, you’re fighting every inch.
“Lewis has had a really consistent season this year and he’s in the battle for P3 in the Driver’s championship. Worst case, we lost two extra points today but we could have ended up with four less points, so when you take the averages, the team made the right call.
“From my side, zero hard feelings. We gotta work on the car, we aren’t going to get upset over a potential fifth and sixth, not fifth and seventh.”