Lewis Hamilton has explained why he let team-mate George Russell pass him during what Mercedes boss Toto Wolff described as an “atrocious”

Lewis Hamilton offered to let team-mate George Russell pass him during the early stages of the Japanese Grand Prix; Russell ultimately finished two places ahead of Hamilton in seventh, in a reversal of their starting positions; Mercedes boss Toto Wolff bemoaned an “atrocious” first stint

Hamilton started in seventh two places ahead of Russell but lost a position to Charles Leclerc when the race was resumed after a big first-lap crash between Daniel Ricciardo and Alex Albon resulted in a red flag and standing restart.

As the gap between the Mercedes cars rapidly began to close, Hamilton came onto team radio to ask whether he should let Russell through, before he was instructed to do as the switch was made on lap 14.

“I think I picked up a bit of damage at the beginning with Charles, he came around the outside,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1.

“I had huge understeer for the first stint. I couldn’t turn the car through any of the corners.

The Mercedes pair ultimately finished the race having swapped their starting positions of seventh and ninth, with both abandoning a potential one-stop strategy after switching to hard tyres during the early red-flag stoppage.

 

Hamilton said that Mercedes’ strategic choices weren’t responsible for their failure to advance through the field in Suzuka.

 

Asked if Mercedes could have done something different, he said: “Nothing, I don’t think. I don’t know what the different strategy would have been, whether it was staying on the medium to start with but we still had two really terrible hard tyres to run through, so a real challenge today.”

Mercedes’ decision to switch to the hard was influenced by the fact they had two new sets of the compound available, compared to just one of the medium, which ultimately proved to be stronger.

 

“The hard tyre was pretty bad,” Hamilton added. “The medium tyre was much better, so yeah, in hindsight it looks like we should have had two medium tyres. But in general, the car was pretty bad.”

 

Wolff: Atrocious first stint prevented podium chance

The result continued a disappointing start to the season for Mercedes, but was ultimately about what they expected after arriving in Japan off the back of a concerning showing in Australia two weeks earlier.

 

“We ended up where we started,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1. “It was just very difficult. We had a second that was super quick and we would have been racing on the podium but an atrocious first stint.

 

“We need to find out what it was. Was it too hot? Were we overmanaging?”

Despite the result leaving fourth-placed Mercedes 107 points behind leaders Red Bull in the constructors’ standings, Wolff felt that overall progress had been made.

 

“I think it’s much better than it looks than the final result. And also in qualifying there’s lots we learned. It’s going to get better from here,” he added.

 

“We need to be quick on all circuits. There’s no excuse on temperatures or track layout. We have to sort it out.

 

“This is live testing for us. We have changed things massively and this is reflected in the result. The car is becoming quicker.”

 

Russell: Piastri had enough room to stay on track

Russell had to make a final-lap pass on McLaren’s Oscar Piastri to claim seventh, with the move coming after an incident a couple of laps earlier that resulted in a stewards investigation.

 

With Fernando Alonso in fifth purposefully allowing Piastri to stay within DRS range behind him in attempt to prevent Russell from passing either of them, the Brit made an opportunistic lunge up the inside of the McLaren at the final chicane.

After very slight contact, Piastri cut the chicane and held the position, and complained over team radio that Russell hadn’t left enough space for him to stay on track.

 

Piastri’s error in the closing stages of the penultimate lap allowed Russell to pass at the first corner, before the stewards eventually decided no action was required over the earlier incident.

 

“It was a late move from my side,” Russell told Sky Sports F1 before the stewards’ decision had been announced. “I was down the inside, made contact. I think there was enough room for us both to stay on the track, and he obviously continues over…

 

“I think I would have been a little bit more upset had I finished the race behind him in the end. Nothing gained, nothing lost for either.”

 

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