Did Russell deserve to out-score Hamilton? Perhaps not – but it was close

2022 F1 team mate battles: Hamilton vs Russell

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The seven-times world champion versus the upcoming star of the future promised to make for one of the most absorbing intra-team contests of 2022.

But Mercedes’ new W13 proved a blunt tool for much of the opening half of the season. Lewis Hamilton and new team mate George Russell found themselves preoccupied with the mid-to-long term challenge of sorting out a fundamentally flawed chassis, which at times proved a distraction from the short-term goal of getting the best results possible.

With in-season testing virtually non-existent, and practice time limited more tightly during race weekends than was the case just two years ago, Mercedes devoted early race weekends to experimenting with different car settings. They sacrificed maximum performance in order to accelerate their investigation of a car they did not fully understand to begin with, and which continued to surprise them well into the season.

This practice continued until the Canadian Grand Prix and tended to involve Hamilton running the most aggressive set-ups – a logical move as he has far more experience as a driver and of Mercedes’ past cars. But at times these plainly compromised his performance, as was clearest at Baku City Circuit where he ran a lower ride height than Russell and suffered a ride that was as excruciatingly painful as it was slow.

George Russell, Mercedes, Miami International Autodrome, 2022
A VSC period helped Russell beat Hamilton in Miami
Having opened the season with a podium finish which flattered the W13 and would take four months to improve on, Hamilton was beaten home by Russell in the next seven races. His detractors lapped it up, but once Mercedes resumed more normal service, Hamilton clearly had the upper hand until the final races.

Over the following 11 races, Hamilton out-qualified Russell except in Austria, where both crashed, and Hungary, where his Mercedes suffered a DRS fault in qualifying. Hamilton’s race pace was strong too, notably at the Hungaroring where from seventh on the grid he finished ahead of his pole-winning team mate.

As the season neared it end, Russell made a step in performance which appeared to coincide with Mercedes’ introduction of its final upgrade package, which made the W13 a much more competitive proposition. The qualifying gap between them shrank to virtually nothing in Mexico and Abu Dhabi, and Russell claimed a useful third in Brazil thanks in part to spinning off as rain fell in Q3, the prelude to his breakthrough grand prix victory two days later.

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Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Hungaroring, 2022
Hamilton took the fight to Verstappen more often than Russell
Mercedes came close to embarrassing Ferrari in the constructors’ championship thanks in part to largely error-free seasons by their drivers. Still, when they did err, they did so spectacularly: Hamilton tripping over Fernando Alonso’s Alpine at Spa, Russell taking Carlos Sainz Jnr out at the Circuit of the Americas.

After the first eight races of the year Russell led his team mate by 37 points, a gap which can largely be ascribed to the team’s set-up approach and Hamilton’s misfortune with race interruptions in Melbourne and Miami. Still, once the curtain fell on the season Hamilton had only cut that deficit to 25 – his car failure with four laps to go in Abu Dhabi contributing a 14-point swing.

So Russell might not have deserved to end the season ahead of Hamilton on points, but there was remarkably little in it, and the newcomer was in the peak of his form over the final races which included a maiden victory his team mate could have taken. He will go into his second season at Mercedes knowing he measured up very respectably against the sport’s most successful driver of all time.

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Unrepresentative comparisons omitted. Negative value: Hamilton was faster; Positive value: Russell was faster

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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58 comments on “Did Russell deserve to out-score Hamilton? Perhaps not – but it was close”

  1. Another article to make Lewis look not so bad. I hope Lewis one day appreciates the loyalty displayed here, which is above and beyond.

    1. Lewis generally shows gratitude to anyone who helps him, and he’s also fairly used to detractors putting him down.

      1. There is a difference between ‘putting down’ and ‘adding perspective’ though I agree it easily gets lost to chauvinism.

    2. I mean, you’d be hard-pressed to make him look bad.
      Given the car they had, total regulations change, supposed (not sure if a big contributing factor) set-up experiments and all that – I’d say adapting to the car slightly slower than someone as young and talented as Russell and then slowly edging ahead towards the season end is a very decent result.
      I think making it look bad is about as hard as making Lewis look like the “head above all the rest” GOAT. Both rather speculative as well.

    3. Lewis was always a slow starter and the data supports this again but even close he lost to George which shouldn’t be with his experience.

    4. I love this attitude. Dude has 7 world championships (arguably should be 8), has 103 wins, 191 podiums, 61 fastest laps, and arguably, this is his worst season of F1 ever– he’s NEVER finished lower than 5th before. It’s also the first time since 2002 that he hasn’t won a race in an open-wheel series.

      His list of records held in Formula 1 is virtually a book in itself. Most wins at a circuit, most wins in a debut season, most wins at their home circuit, most wins at different tracks– the list goes on and on and on.

      And the article is making Lewis “look not so bad”.

      You’re funny.

      1. The article is meant to make Lewis look not so bad, while the lost out to his team mate. Earlier attempts were made stating he did all the testing and more of that kind of excuses. The records you mention have to take into account the unparalleled dominance his car has had the entire V6 hybrid period. The second driver always was also on the front row and came in second behind Lewis more than any competitor did or could. This led to a group of people actually starting to believe he is as good as the tally would make you believe. While in fact he is one of the best who lucked in a dominance streak that handed him lots of records. Given the fact Mercedes battled for 2nd place in the WCC eventually this season, I feel he should have won one or two races at minimum to live up to his perceived level of driving. It would be appropriate to just address this instead of making up stories to defend him.

      2. I disagree.
        Lewis should have been 10 time wolf champion with 134 victory and 127 poles

  2. What do you mean deserve. What a weird question to ask. He finished ahead more so the answer is yes. There, solved it for you

    1. Next weird article will be “is Russell racist for beating Hamilton”?

      1. Once again it’s the Racefans team giving grudging praise to George whose 2022 season absolutely deserves such a result. Lewis lost out through making more mistakes and not having the strategic brain of his young team mate.

  3. If anything the standings flatter Hamilton, to be honest. While he did have a period while he was outperforming Russell mid-season, this was when the car was at its strongest – so he should have been able to make that pay with bigger scores. When Russell was routinely leading Hamilton home at the start of the season, Mercedes were only really at the front of the midfield and picking up 5th/6th places. When Hamilton was ahead of Russell he was fighting for podiums.

    Each driver had one DNF that was outside of their control and had roughly equal luck with the strategy calls (Russell had those races where he ended up ahead due to fortunately timed safety cars, but then Hamilton had races like Hungary where he was given an obviously better strategy). So I think it is unfair to suggest that Russell didn’t deserve to be ahead of Hamilton – he had an excellent first season with the team and the results bear that out.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      2nd December 2022, 8:53

      Russell certainly had more control of his dnf in Silverstone. Most of us blamed him for this incident. I also don’t agree that they had equal bad luck. I think overall it was clear that Hamilton was more unlucky and overall did the better job this season.

    2. Russell did the better job this year, which was expected ever since he borrowed Lewis car once and showed he can challenge all when given the rught material. It was far less difficult than it seemed to win with that rocket car all those years. Now Lewis actually has to drive around problems and imperfections it turns out it is not so easy for him to beat his team mate.

  4. In my opinion, Hamilton probably put in more hard work this season than any other season. The early season setup gambles he tried meant that he practically went blind into every qualifying and race weekend in the initial races. And beating a pretty fast Russell after that was going to be difficult. Also, because of his early season setup gambles / practice testing, Mercedes were actually able to improve the car. The car became faster due to his efforts in that area.

    However, one still has to admit that Russell was no slouch. The VSC / SC fortunes that he got were also because he put himself in a position where he could benefit from it. And he will be able to do that next season too. On the other hand, Russell should look to improve on his lap 1 driving. Silverstone, Austin were pretty poor.

    Overall, an exciting pairing. Strongest in the field. But if Mercedes have a championship contender next year, expect fireworks to start very early on. (you already saw a bit of that at Zandvoort this year).

    The British Grand Prix 2023 will be a very stressful weekend for Mercedes

    1. Any setup experiments would have taken place in P1, P2 – by the time the car got to qualifying they would have been running almost the same setup. With Hamiltons experience, his ability level, this was plenty time to get his eye in. His strength is his race pace, especially as the race reaches its final half…. experiments in P1, P2 would not have held him back.

      It is clear he has the slight edge over Russell, but Russell has other talents that saw him maximize some results.

  5. Every time Lewis had a tough season (2011, 2016, 2022), he was beaten by his teammate. This is not a great stat for a 7-times world champion…

    1. Just like Vettel. Both drivers need their car to have a punch vs the others to let their best cone shining through. In adversary they struggle.

    2. Michel Shumacher had a tough season (2010,2011,2012), he was beaten by his teammate. Is this not a great stat for a 7-times world champion too?
      Alonso had a tough season (2015,2022), he was beaten by his teammate…
      Raikkonen had a tough season (2014,2015,2016,2017,2018), he was beaten by his teammate…
      Perhaps you need to look at who was a teammate and what kind of rivalry and circumstances there were during the season?

  6. I am not sure I buy this line that Hamilton suffered because he experimented and got it wrong. The time for experimentation is practice and if they found his car was set up badly why didn’t they change it to Russell’s set up if that was better?

    Did he suffer because he couldn’t bring himself to admit failure soon enough?

    1. I agree, it makes sense to trial new parts with the more experienced driver but not to the point where he starts falling behind. And if you have a 7 time world champion being beaten by his rookie teammate you need to give everyone a reason, including the drivers.
      I did predict George would outscore Lewis, for a few reasons, he’s an exceptional talent, his time in Williams has made him an expert at maximizing subpar machinery capabilities, being younger allows you to handle a massive design change more easily.

    2. For the obvious reason that the setup used by Russell (the default) was going to finish 5th and that wasn’t Lewis’s objective. The new guy was happy as he was having >his< best season.

      Practice sessions were also blighted with bouncing.

    3. If you just had a last gasp final season the previous year you will be desperate to work out any solution that will get you back to fighting for the championship. I believe Hamilton was willing to try out lots of things because he believed they could solve the car and out perform everyone. I also believe Hamilton has matured a lot and isn’t bothered too much if Russell finishes ahead of him after all Hamilton is driving the car usually allocated to the driver who finishes lower in the championship or isn’t the team’s exact favourite. (The Yellow Camera car)

  7. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    2nd December 2022, 9:33

    Effectively starting from scratch with a brand new car why shouldn’t George finish ahead of Lewis? MB picked him because they see something in him.

    For George to be nowhere would have been a real embarrassment for the team. As it is George looks to be the right choice going forward.

    1. Effectively starting from scratch with a brand new car why shouldn’t George finish ahead of Lewis?

      Haven’t you heard? Hamilton is the best driver ever, apparently.
      He should finish ahead of everyone…

  8. Russell got to grips with the new car much better than Hamilton initially and was clearly the better driver out of the two but Hamilton came back in the 2nd half of the year and looked to have more pace and consistency than Russell.

    It’s a bit of a weird question to ask though – did he deserve it…? You could pose that question to most things that happen in F1. Did Hamilton deserve a dominant car/weak team mate combination that guaranteed easy titles for several years? Does it matter? The record books say that Hamilton won a bunch of titles and they also show that Russell beat Hamilton in his debut season for Mercedes.

    1. Yeah, that is a solid take on things there @petebaldwin. Russel did a great job taking the opportunities available to qualify ahead and bring home the results from the start of the season.

      Whether Hamilton was more focussed on getting a handle on the car to unlock the pace the team felt was in the car somewhere or just took more time to get to grips with the car (or felt less motivation fighting for minor points places) is something we can really only make theories about and discuss.

      After the team got more of a grip on the car we could see Hamilton looking more like the driver we know him to be around the middle of the season and towards the end of the season they were closely matched. But the reality is that Russel DID score more results, did win that race and therefore outscored Hamilton and thereby achieved more.

    2. Good summary

  9. What matters for me is the team spirit he showed this year.

    Abu Dhabi last year must have been tough to digest and the fact that he came back fighting and working hard to bring the team back to the top is something I admire and didn’t expect to this extent.

  10. Another article for Hamilton praise and excuses. One has to be totally blind and one sided to suggest and think Russell and his team around him did not experiment with different changes, parts and setups.

    It should be plain clear to see that Russell was more consistent throughout the season. And put himself in a position to benefit from SC calls. He also had some bad strategy calls from the team and drove great to make up places after stop go penalties.

    1. “One has to be totally blind and one sided to suggest and think Russell and his team around him did not experiment with different changes, parts and setups.”

      It’s a good job your not in control of a team that’s struggling to find out what’s wrong with their car, then.

      I also love the ‘put himself in a position to benefit’ fallacy. The same nonsense people used to use for Button back when he would benefit from such situations. What you mean is, be outqualified and/or out-race and therefore throw your eggs into the go-long-hard-tire strategy and hope it pays off.

    2. “One has to be totally blind and one sided to suggest and think Russell and his team around him did not experiment with different changes, parts and setups.”

      And one has to be totally blind to not recognise that Lewis did this alone, for the first 5-6 races. Merc have confirmed this. George started to help with the experimental set ups around race 6. Until that point, Lewis did most of the legwork and even sometimes ran with a heavier car than George (due to sensors on the car to collect data).

      “and put himself in a position to benefit from SC calls.”

      That’s pure luck. I seem to recall Lewis trying to go long, when starting low down the order, in the hope of a late safety car in a couple if races. Similar strategy to George in e.g. Miami. The only difference was luck was on George’s side (a late sc happened). A late sc never happened for Lewis

      1. Poor excuses and simply made up by Mercedes. Understandable since I understand this from the team, since you want to protect your star from the past. It remains however a made up story.

  11. Roll on 2023. The detractors will make sure we don’t forget the years in which Lewis was beaten by a teammate, yet ignore the fact that this is a rarity. Alonso is constantly heralded as one of the finest drivers to sit in a car, I agree, yet Ocon was the better of those two – on points this year, yet no one batted an eyelid. In Lewis’ words, it matters little unless you are in the fight for the title. Time to put F1 to bed until March.

    1. I truly find it amazing that Alonso is regarded as a god by so many, when he performed so averagely for so much of his career. And Hamilton is slated for his performances – it’s just the car, beaten by George…

      Trust me when I say this, if that car was a winning proposition all year, George would not have beaten him. As good as the young ‘un is, and he really is… He would not have beaten him.

  12. Robert Henning
    2nd December 2022, 12:41

    Frankly what is the point of this article?

    Hamilton on a normal weekend had 3 practise sessions to set up his car. He failed to go the right direction and cost himself the points. This should not be against George for bringing home points.

    Hamilton had 14 races to close a 40 point deficit. He couldn’t, thanks to some great showings at Spa and Singapore, both races where he could have easily gotten close to 30+ points but thanks to his own undoings, failed to bring home the points.

    Hamilton has lost to half his teammates. This is nothing surprising.

    He even had Bottas of all guys appear close to him after half the season usually.

    Russell is a better driver than Bottas and Hamilton will have a hard time beating him next year.

  13. Is Russell better than Hamilton? This is not a subject for discussion, since the race decides everything, doesn’t it?
    I also like one blogger’s article on Medium https://jimkimberley.medium.com/is-george-russell-better-than-lewis-hamilton-8abb1dc741d5/ – it raises the same issues as this article. You might find it interesting.

  14. Let me see, the question is if the young driver, not used to team and car was the better one. We could see the choice made by Toto was very obvious but his choice failed to deliver.
    The real and simple answer is given by the results of this season. Thats how F1 works. Not the way some like it to work but the hard facts.
    George did better in an sub par car.
    Btw, Lewis never really impressed with development of cars in the past. its not his strong point.
    So both suffered by a very bad design and george made the best of it.

  15. George’s performance was kind of remarkable considering this was his 1st season with MB. Even if he had scored around 70% of what Lewis had, people would have called him the future for this team. I get the feeling outscoring Lewis has made people questioning his performance and justifying Lewis’s struggles this year.

    Yes, scores don’t tell the whole story, as it doesn’t with Ocon vs Alonso this year. But George did outperform his teammate, even if by a slim(mer) margin. MB must be feeling optimistic about their future regarding drivers now.

  16. This title is real bullcrap.
    So what’s next, George will be “the illegal, fraudulent, guy that stole it…” teammate for a whole year. I could understand the bitterness of half of the Lewis fans, but this is getting sad.
    Give George the credit he deserves.

    1. He will get it once Lewis leaves and a new UK guy to cheer for is needed. Personally I hope it rather becomes Lando though.

  17. The-Race ranked Lewis’s season above George’s. Lewis was slightly quicker overall and was compromised for the first 5-6 races doing experimental work, often running with a heavier car than George, due to sensors on the car collecting data. This has been confirmed by Merc.

    George did well but the points don’t tell the true story. Similar to Ocon and Alonso

    1. Of course. Mercedes said it, so it must be true.

      1. @Mayrton Your view is binary, between Hamilton being lucky or people rating him to high in your book.

        Your post are mostly about conveying your opinion over others regardless of the points they make. Rebutting your points makes feel stupid. It’s easier just to say I don’t with anything you say ever.

        That said even if dispised your favourite driver, I would still not bother to put him down! I mean seriously! What’s the point?

  18. ‘Did Rosberg deserve to out-score Hamilton? Perhaps not – but it was close’

    There would be similarities with such an article. As the seasons go by the relative rankings of drivers becomes clearer.

  19. Good for Russell.

    The fact remains the two best drivers on the grid are clearly still Lewis and Max – when both are on song, no one else if close.

    George like the others just does not have that wow factor.

    Haters of both Lewis / Max can surely see that.

    Alonso and Charles are next and then it is open to debate.

    What I find frankly remarkable is Lewis is now 37, in most sports that’s retirement age.

  20. George definitely deserved being ahead. Early in the season when the cars were further down the grid and amongst more cars George did the better job. Racing closely without incident is not a strength of Hamilton. Also, George, new to the team, seemed to be wiser than Hamilton when it came to race strategy, he knew what he wanted whereas Hamilton seems to need more support.

    1. Agreed, Russell showed good maturity and is stronger vs Lewis in driving around challenges of the car, wheel to wheel action and strategy. A deserved win for him vs his team mate. Now he needs to work on eliminating clumsy get togethers (like all greats went through) and get these out of his system in a better and quicker way than the two Ferrari guys, who seem to struggle to grow out of that phase (Sainz being a bit more troubled and unpredictable than Charles, but both really need to work on their consistency)

  21. What more should George have done to “deserve” outscoring Hamilton? Or how badly should Lewis have done for his team mate to get some credit?
    Russell took the only 2 poles and the only win for the team this season, in their first season together, and his first in a non-backmarker team. Plus, he is ahead in both the finished ahead and laps ahead stats. So not even the stats you put in the article support your conclusion.
    Even if Hamilton was experimenting all season long, how is that an explanation? Wasn’t he also supposed to benefit from the results of these experiments, at least in the second half of the season?
    Not one of the best titles/articles on this site unfortunately.

    1. This not a scientific research paper. This is a simple accumulative scoring system. If a drivers places better he’s is rewarded with higher points. The rating system is not 22 absolutely like-minded judges following 22 drivers with a comprehensive rating system incorporating all actions in every situation.

      Just something worth keeping in mind.

    2. I think that is a solid argumentation. But somehow there is always a twist in most stories to favor Lewis. And trying to paint more perspective into this (and his tally) usually does not go down well here and delivers lots of resistance and even personal criticism.

  22. I’m sure the comment section here has been quite reasonable

  23. Once the experimentation was over there was a big gulf with Lewis ahead. George did well in Brazil, but it seemed like a gift from Lewis to me.

  24. From what I can remember a couple of races before Silverstone it was reported in the media that Hamilton would stop the experimental setups at Silverstone. I suspected it was BS but from Silverstone onwards Hamilton took a massive step forward. So I am inclined to think Hamilton did spend part of the season at a disadvantage. How big that disadvantage was though is something we can only speculate about.

    1. @Sam That kind of nuance is 3 levels to high for some…

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