Lewis Hamilton has said that George Russell‘s plan to trap Carlos Sainz in a DRS train wouldn’t have worked at the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix, noting that it almost cost him fifth-place in the race.
In the closing laps around Suzuka, Hamilton and Sainz mercilessly reined in the young Mercedes driver as his attempted one-stop strategy began to fail and he lost time to the two-stoppers.
As he began to see his teammate and the red Ferrari in his wing mirrors, Russell proposed that Hamilton remained behind him but within DRS range so that Sainz couldn’t attack the pair down the main straight, essentially what the Spaniard and Lando Norris did to Mercedes in Singapore.
Despite an assurance that he would give up the place on the final lap as they raced to the line, the Silver Arrows gave him the instruction to allow the seven-time world champion through before then telling Hamilton to allow Russell to sit in DRS.
He complied with the command but Sainz got through anyway and finished just under a second behind Hamilton, who managed to hang on to fifth place.
“I knew that they obviously thought of it from the last race and it made no sense,” Hamilton said to the media. “I needed to get this car as clear ahead as possible and I was on my way.
“I was around two seconds ahead and they asked me to give George the DRS so because of that I had to come off the gas down the straight to get him 0.8 behind.
“He got the DRS but then he got overtaken, which was going to happen because he was on a one-stop. Then Sainz got past him and then he was right on my tail so it was not ideal.”
Friction at Mercedes?
On Lap 16, Hamilton ran wide at the second Degner corner suffering understeer and that allowed Russell to get a run at the British driver.
As the pair barrelled towards the Spoon Curve at Turn 13, Russell was alongside and looked for a move around the outside having better momentum, but Hamilton threw his car up the inside and took the pair of them off the track.
It was not too dissimilar to Max Verstappen‘s defence at the 2021 Brazilian GP and whilst Hamilton was called to pit at the end of the lap, it was the latest flashpoint between the pair at Mercedes, who have managed to keep it under control so far.
The pair collided in qualifying for the Spanish GP earlier in 2023 and have not been impartial to complaining on the radio about the other from time to time.
In Parc Ferme, the drivers didn’t appear to acknowledge each other immediately after getting out of their cars, with Russell walking straight past.
Hamilton considered his defence to be hard racing, and it’s possible that he could have been suffering from balance issues with his W14 from opening lap contact as he noted he had been struggling with lock-ups throughout the race.
“I was definitely aggressive,” Hamilton added. “But it was good, I think it was good racing. Honestly, I shouldn’t been in that shouldn’t really been in that position.
“I think I picked up something on the right-front and that just kept running riot last quarter and terrifying. And then it wouldn’t turn through the hairpin.
“All weekend I’ve been going through the hairpin and then I was turning and nothing was happening. I had struggled with the balance on track, but I did a little bit aggressive.”