ALEXIA’S TAKE: Can Hamilton / Russell turn into Lewis vs Nico II?

© Jiri Krenek for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

By Alexia Tibil

Throughout its history, Formula One has provided fans with some iconic rivalries between drivers and their teams, rivalries that most of the times switched to “off the track” battles because of their intensity and also toxicity at times.

Talking about intense rivalries in Formula One cannot be done without mentioning one of the very first such battles – Niki Lauda vs James Hunt in the late 70s. As many sports journalists say, the Lauda-Hunt rivalry turned out to be the beginning of a not so peaceful few decades in the sport, as lots of other such pairings eventually became immensely toxic. And, as they say, history tends to repeat itself. This is precisely what has happened with Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg when they were paired as teammates back in 2013 at Mercedes. These two rivalries have their similarities, as both of the pairings grew up racing each other through their early careers and other series before graduating to Formula One. On top of that, both Lauda-Hunt and Hamilton-Rosberg used to be roommates in their teen years, before battling for championship titles.

When it comes to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s rivalry, one thing has to be said: their relationship turned toxic over the four-year period they were teammates at Mercedes, and you could sense the tension by a mile. If we were to take a good look back at it now, it seems like their relationship did not switch around in one particular moment, but it was mostly a series of unfortunate events that made them turn bitter to one another. Hamilton joined a then struggling Mercedes in 2013, after six successful years with Mclaren, while Rosberg had already been with the team since its return to F1 in 2010. When the announcement that Lewis was joining Mercedes was made, every pundit around the paddock would write articles titled something like: ‘Childhood Friends Reunited’.

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The excitement, however, did not last long, as the first signs of tension were felt during the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, when Mercedes implemented team orders on Rosberg to favour Hamilton. But, at that moment in time, no one could have predicted the storm that was yet to come. Although they were not in the fight for any of the titles in their first year as teammates, this did not stop them from wanting to finish ahead of the other in the drivers’ standings. When 2014 came, Mercedes built a championship-winning car and many experts pinpoint this moment as the real “beginning of the end” for their relationship, as only one could come out as the winner.

From their on-track collisions at the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix, the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix and the 2016 Austrian Grand Prix, to the mind games between the drivers and their garages, things at Mercedes seemed to devolve for the worst. Niki Lauda, former non-executive chairman for the team, had his take on the dynamic of the drivers, saying that there came a point when “they had no relations, which is always bad”. During the 2016 season, their last season as teammates, team boss Toto Wolff was forced to step up, especially after the drivers took each other out of the race in Barcelona. He stated that when you have a winning car, having a double DNF in a race is “utterly unacceptable” and “measures had to be taken in order to calm things down”. Rosberg went on to win that year’s title and, shortly after, he announced his retirement from the sport, leaving Mercedes in a pickle.

In the years to come, Wolff mentioned on a number of occasions that he would not let anything like the rivalry between Hamilton and Rosberg happen again, not under his watch anyways. And so, from 2017 until 2021, Hamilton was paired to former Williams driver – Valtteri Bottas, and peace was restored in the Mercedes garage.

Back in 2021, Bottas’ departure was already speculated throughout the paddock, with Williams’ George Russell mentioned as the main candidate for his replacement. Halfway through the 2022 season, some observers were already saying that a team of Hamilton and Russell could eventually turn out to be another episode of what Hamilton-Rosberg was, especially when Mercedes produces a championship-winning car. Let’s take into account these two seasons – 2013 and 2022. In both cases, Mercedes did not produce a championship-winning car, and they had a new driver pairing on the grid, which was focused more on perfecting the car and getting it to a decent level, rather than competing against each other. This year, as Wolff already mentioned, both Russell and Hamilton’s main rival has been the car – just like in 2013. The Austrian also said that Russell and Hamilton’s “personalities, their characters, their mindset is very special. Even if it can get heated because the competition is on, and we allowed it, overarching that is always going to be the good character”. On top of that, this time around, the drivers are not in the same stage of their career, as opposed to when Hamilton paired Rosberg. This might have a positive impact on the relationship, as they now have very different goals.

So what happens when Mercedes gets its car to a race and championship-winning level? We have already seen some of that in Zandvoort, when some friction could be sensed between the drivers, as Russell’s decision towards the end of the race possibly cost Hamilton a win. But, as racing goes, these things tend to happen when performing at the highest level. As for what is to come for the new Mercedes pairing, only the next seasons can tell. Should they get the car right, we might see a different side of the pairing – a more competitive one to say the least.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of SilverArrows.Net.

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