George Russell enjoyed a solid first season with Mercedes in the 2022 Formula One campaign. Expectations were high for Mercedes after the team lost the Constructors’ Championship crown for the first time since 2013 and Lewis Hamilton narrowly missed out on his record-breaking eighth title in a controversial end to the 2021 season. But Mercedes were off the pace of their rivals Red Bull and Ferrari from the off.
The Mercedes W13 lacked speed due to a porpoising problem, and it took the majority of the campaign to rectify the issue. Mercedes made a late recovery in the final few races of the 2022 campaign, where Russell made his breakthrough in a Grand Prix to clinch his first victory at Sao Paulo. Russell’s development is a very exciting prospect for Mercedes, who proved that they were right to move on from Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas was a good number two driver behind Hamilton, but with the Brit now approaching the final stages of his career, Mercedes have protected their long-term future with a driver that is capable of challenging Max Verstappen for the Drivers’ Championship. Mercedes should return to contention for both the Constructors’ Championship and the Drivers’ Championship in the 2023 season.
But will it be Hamilton or Russell who is leading their charge for success?
Passing of the torch?
Mercedes face an interesting 2023 season. Russell finished higher than Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship standings in the last campaign by a comfortable margin. Hamilton’s history obviously stands in his favor when it comes to the standing in the team, but when it comes to the heat of the battle on the track, Mercedes may have to make a decision over who is their number one driver. As of 10th February 2023, Hamilton is considered the stronger option in the odds with Betway to win the Drivers’ Championship at 11/4 rather than Russell’s odds of 7/1.
Hamilton’s experience and skill behind the wheel still trump his team-mate, although he did endure his worst Formula One season in 2022. The 37-year-old failed to record a victory for the first time in a campaign and placed down in sixth position in the standings. He may have been enduring a slight hangover from the devastation of his loss to Verstappen in the final race in Abu Dhabi in 2021, which was not helped by the performance of his Mercedes W13. With a new car and time to reflect, Hamilton should come out of the blocks with a response in 2023.
However, Russell is not going anywhere and unlike Bottas should provide healthy competition in the mold of Nico Rosberg. Russell was the model of consistency, finishing below fifth place on only three occasions in 22 races. The 24-year-old will have learned a lot during his first season with Mercedes and should be able to build on his impressive campaign. To take the torch from Hamilton, he will have to turn podiums into multiple victories and perhaps even apply pressure on Verstappen at the top.
Verstappen was unstoppable last season due to his own brilliance behind the wheel, the quality of his Red Bull RB18 and the deficiencies of Mercedes and Ferrari. Mercedes should at least be optimistic about overhauling Ferrari to move back into second place in the Constructors’ Championship.
Hamilton and Russell are a stronger team than Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr and only fell behind the Italian outfit last season due to the issues with the W13 that displayed signs of improvement towards the end of the campaign. With a full off-season to remedy their problems, Mercedes should be on the path back toward Red Bull. Ferrari has not managed to get out of their own way for 15 years, so expect them to take another step back rather than mustering a challenge of its own.
Overhauling Verstappen is another challenge completely. The Dutchman should have free reign of the circuit in 2023 as he did in the last campaign. He is still going to be the leading contender, but Russell does have the elements of a successful challenger.
The Brit was consistent and on the mettle almost every race week. It’s tough to have that level of focus, but Russell always got the most of his Mercedes other than rare blemishes at the British Grand Prix and the Singapore Grand Prix. If he can raise the standard of his performance a fraction, boosted by Mercedes’ improvement, Russell has a great chance to compete at the top.