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Lewis Hamilton has been outshone by his new Mercedes team-mate George Russell this season and has fallen two places behind him in the F1 Drivers’ Championship standings. But David Coulthard doesn’t think the debate about which driver is better can be settled until they have qualified for a Grand Prix in the top two positions.
Russell got the opportunity to race for the Silver Arrows in F1 at the start of this season after replacing Hamilton’s ex-team-mate Valtteri Bottas. And the 24-year-old has impressed during the first half of the season, claiming four podium finishes, despite the fact the Mercedes cars have been struggling with porpoising issues.
Hamilton, meanwhile, has looked out of sorts this year and hasn’t been able to make the impact he would have liked. But Coulthard isn’t convinced that Russell is now a better driver than the seven-time world champion and says it won’t become clear who is superior until Mercedes sort out the problems and the pair starts a race in first and second position.
“I think George is a future world champion,” said the 51-year-old. “I think he’s a fantastic driver and I think he’s earned that place in the team. But we won’t truly know how he compares to Lewis until they have a winning car again because, right now, this is the best car that George has ever driven, relative to where the fastest car is – and this is not the best car that Lewis has driven.
“It’s two different mindsets, two different phases of their careers. And that’s why right now you go, ‘oh, George is outperforming Lewis.’ Well, let’s wait and see when they qualify first and second in whatever order it happens to be, just how the running order is then.
“I think in my mind’s eye, and it remains to be seen as in when Mercedes delivers a world championship car again, but the exceptional drivers – your Lewises, your Maxes, your you know, go back in time, your Schumachers your Hakkinens and the like – when the faster the car is, the more difficult it is to drive.
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“That may seem counterintuitive if you’ve not done anything more than a better car thing, but they all have the same tyres. So if you’re in whatever the slowest car is – and Montreal was a bad example because the Ferrari was on the back row – but let’s see, it’s normally that a Williams or a Haas or whoever it happens to be at the moment, you’d think, ‘oh, it must be really difficult because it’s not as quick.’
“Actually the further you are away from the peak of downforce, then everything just isn’t running as close to its limit, so the tyres aren’t running as close to the limit. So what tends to happen is when you have a really fast car, exceptional drivers get more out of it. And when you have an average car, it becomes easier for everyone to get something out of it because it’s an average car.”
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