Russell adds to sombre Mercedes mood with new reality for Hamilton

George Russell doesn’t appear to have any confidence that Mercedes will turn their season around after just one race and believes the best course of action would be to “shift our focus already to next year”. Mercedes endured a difficult campaign in 2022 as they were playing catch-up to both Red Bull and Ferrari from the get-go.

The Silver Arrows were constantly problem-solving up until the final few weeks of the season when they appeared to find the sweet spot in a troublesome W13 car. That led to some optimism that they were heading on the right track with an eye at returning to the front of the grid for 2023.

But they’re once again starting on the backfoot with Red Bull far out in front while Aston Martin are also seemingly ahead of Mercedes in their development. Lewis Hamilton and Russell finished the season-opening race in Bahrain fifth and seventh respectively and they were unable to truly challenge their rivals on track.

It’s just one race in what is a record-breaking season in terms of how many Grands Prix are on the calendar. But Mercedes already appear to have thrown in the towel for this year in trying to catch up with Red Bull.

Toto Wolff and Hamilton admitted at the weekend that Mercedes need to scrap the current concept of their car and move in a different direction. And Russell suggests both he and Hamilton will have to cope with the new reality of fighting for podiums this season once again with the 25-year-old wanting his team to put all their focus on next year’s car.

“We want to optimise every result, but if you give me the choice between fighting for victories or making slow progress and never really getting a chance, then of course I will choose the first option,” Russell said. “So if we have to sacrifice some races or part of the season in order to have the opportunity to get a car that we can compete with in the second part of the season, then we have to do that.

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“Or maybe even shift our focus already to next year. Maybe we should do the latter, because we are clearly very behind.”

The latest setback will come as an even bigger shock for Hamilton, who spent eight consecutive years fighting for championships.

The 38-year-old enjoyed one of the most dominant period in F1 history between 2014 and 2021, but he was unable to win a single race last year and looks unlikely to change that in 2023. And the British racing superstar will have a decision to make on whether he believes Mercedes has what it takes to return to their former glories when his contract expires at the end of the season.

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