If Mercedes’ progress is real, its drivers must improve

Mercedes' best performance and result of the 2024 season was quickly followed by Formula 1 drivers admitting they had not done a good enough job.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished third and fourth in the Canadian Grand Prix which Russell started from pole, took an early lead, and battled in the leading group throughout.

Hamilton wasn't in that form for most of the race after only qualifying seventh due to a late slump that has continued a difficult run of Saturdays this season, but a combination of patience and strong pace almost netted him the podium ahead of Russell – despite the chaotic racing. .

This was not, on paper, something to particularly criticize. Especially since this race was very difficult in mixed conditions. But every driver felt this was a missed opportunity given the huge step up in performance compared to the usual standard in 2024.

Russell's position in first place meant he had the best chance, but he appeared to overuse his brokers early on. This cost him a vital position on the track in front of Max Verstappen and Lando Norris, and after the safety car timing put him back in front of Norris, he also made a mistake later in the race that led to him falling behind the McLaren again.

He then clashed with fellow McLaren Oscar Piastri, dropping Russell to fifth. No wonder he admitted: “For me, it was just making so many mistakes in crucial moments that cost us the chance” of victory.

“I was very focused on getting back on the podium because I felt like I had let the team down a little bit, missing out on seeing Max and some of the mistakes that put me in that position in the first place,” Russell said.

Hamilton arguably had a better race, but he was more self-critical and lamented his performance as “one of the worst races I've ever driven.” Although that was likely an exaggeration, it was certainly not a Grand Prix that the driver could be said to have made the most of.

As Hamilton said, “The car was capable of winning,” although Mercedes boss Toto Wolff played down whether or not it had the pace to win. “We dreamed about it,” Wolf said. “But actually maybe not.”

Wolff was understandably defensive of his drivers, adding: “Three and four are much better than we had in the last few races. That's good.

“I think both drivers saw there was more. Maybe we could have gained one or two places, so that's why there's a kind of negative feeling.

“But if I had given them third and fourth place before the weekend, they probably would have taken it.”

That's partly the point, anyway. When the opportunity is there, the Hamilton/Russell combination should maximize it. It is widely regarded as the best pairing of teammates in Formula 1, but everyone agrees that something was left on the table on the day Mercedes had its best chance of the year.

Mercedes has been making good progress recently, and although there may be specific circumstances this weekend related to track layout, weather conditions and grip levels, there are more reasons than ever to believe that the team may finally get around these rules.

This will require sharpening their drivers. Russell is clearly in a happier position than Hamilton in qualifying at the moment, but Wolff's rare mid-race radio message asking him to “focus” after the mistake that dropped him behind Norris is something that should not have happened.

Russell's pace cannot be doubted, but his judgment of how hard his tires were pushing sometimes called for improvement, and so it was here, plus he was guilty of making too many unforced errors – last year's race being one example of that.

Meanwhile, Hamilton remains a real threat on Sundays – arguably faster than Russell – but he often starts from the back and can find himself stuck behind slower cars, playing catch-up, or simply running a different race to what might be possible. So he's been better off in many places on the net.

His declines in practice leading up to qualifying have received a lot of attention recently, but in Montreal from FP3 to qualifying, Hamilton simply wasn't quite as comfortable in the car nor with the margin for error he had previously enjoyed. He had the pace to perform better, but made small mistakes on both laps in Q3. The fact that he was constantly braking later than Russell and losing time on the exit suggests that he was asking too much of the car entering the corner.

But what was really important in Canada was Hamilton being held accountable after the race. Recent comments he made in Monaco suggested that Hamilton suspected something was wrong with his level of qualification versus Russell and led to people interpreting it as him favoring Russell.

But in Canada, Hamilton acknowledged that his disappointing grid position was primarily to blame, rather than other factors, and he knew the impact that would have on a high-stakes Grand Prix.

“during the Weekend [it was] “I gave a really bad performance of my own,” he told Sky Sports F1.

“yesterday [Saturday] A few other things went into it but mostly me. Then today was one of the worst races I've ever driven, just a lot of mistakes.

“If I had qualified better I would have been in a much better position. I'll go back to the drawing board.”

What Hamilton needs, as he puts it, is to “get my head on the right track” – and then better results will follow. Taking responsibility for his qualifying results is already a step toward that end, because nothing good will come from assuming he can't beat Russell on Saturdays (or worse, believing something is going on to undermine him).

The silver lining for Hamilton, he said, is that this Mercedes has clearly become “a car we can fight with.” The pace is there to match or beat Russell on Saturdays, and his performance on Sunday is no problem.

Likewise, Russell must know that he has the pace to prepare himself great for the Grand Prix and just needs to get things done more cleanly and consistently.

These two excellent drivers have waited a long time for Mercedes to start producing a better car for this rule set. If this is what the team finally does, they should be ready to take advantage of this opportunity.


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