Why Russell can beat Hamilton in his first Formula 1 season at Mercedes

26-01-2022 10:45
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George Russell is a supreme talent, and that’s a fact that’s been known for a while now. He’s now been given a chance at Mercedes for 2022, and the question about whether he will take that opportunity with both hands is a foolish one if you’d paid attention to his career so far. 2014 Formula 4 champion, 2017 GP3 Champion, 2018 Formula 2 champion, and, of course, someone who has excelled at Williams, despite their lowly placing in the standings.

It’s hard to impress when running at the back of the grid, but since being promoted into F1, Russell has done exactly that. He whitewashed Robert Kubica in qualifying during their time together, while Nicholas Latifi has been chasing shadows trying to keep up with Russell over the past two years.

His podium in Spa this year, albeit only awarded due to the fact that the race never started, was immense, and showed how talented he is. Rain is the great equaliser in F1, and Russell beat Hamilton that day - coincidence? Not at all. Now, I’m not saying that Russell is a better driver than Hamilton - there’s no evidence to suggest that - but I do think the pair will be on a level playing field this year.

The biggest criticism of Valtteri Bottas was that he was often so far off Hamilton’s level, but if that rainy qualifying session is anything to go by, Russell has the ability to seriously challenge the seven-time world champion. That’s all that was asked of Bottas, but he couldn’t deliver. Russell will. He’s got the talent, he’s now got the machinery, and he’ll be a hard man to stop.

The script of Hamilton beating his teammate at almost every track will be torn up, and I truly believe Russell will be a match for him.

Charles Leclerc, with just one year of F1 experience after his F2 title win I might add, moved to Ferrari and immediately hit the ground running, and he beat Sebastian Vettel in his debut year at the team. Now, Vettel was not at his peak in 2019, but he’s still a four-time world champion, yet Leclerc swatted him aside despite the disparity in their F1 experience.

By comparison, Russell has three years of F1 experience, and is well prepared for his promotion to Mercedes. Hamilton is at a better level than Vettel, sure, but the pair do have similarities. If Leclerc can immediately beat Vettel, then there’s no reason why Russell can’t do the same. Look at his one race stint at Mercedes, completed with shoes too small and in a cockpit that didn’t fit him by the way, and Russell clearly has the minerals.

Furthermore, praise has been showered at Lando Norris for his 2021 performances, particularly at the start of the year and his resounding dominance over Daniel Ricciardo, and deservedly so. But, it’s worth noting that Russell beat Norris in F2, when the pair were essentially in equal machinery. So, if it were Russell in Norris’ place last year, similar, if not better, performances would’ve likely occurred. Now that Russell is set to be in an even better car than McLaren, if 2021 is anything to go by, then he’ll be a serious contender.

Up and coming Brits

Hamilton sometimes struggled to pass Norris during the 2021 season, so Russell will provide him with a similar problem this year. While Russell has the credentials, Hamilton also may not be the same this year. Losing out on the Drivers’ Championship to Max Verstappen in the finale last season will have affected him. Unmotivated by the FIA’s lack of aligned thinking and Michael Masi’s decisions, Hamilton won’t achieve his peak level in 2022, allowing Russell to swoop for his first F1 title.

Of course, the want to put things right and finally achieve that eight world title may take precedence, but Hamilton may not be entirely focused on racing right now. While Russell is already undergoing his first days at the team, Hamilton is yet to be spotted. He may not need the introductions Russell does, but it’s worrying that his head may not be completely on F1 by the time pre-season testing rolls around, which of course sets the tone for the season.

The element of surprise is in Russell’s favour, and given a potential drop off from Hamilton, who is 37 now it’s worth remembering, could play into the youngster’s hands, and he most certainly can beat Hamilton in his first year at Mercedes.

Whether he does is another story, but I, for one, can’t wait to find out.

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