Is competition between the older and younger generations in F1 that fierce?
Hamilton was forced to miss last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix after testing positive for COVID-19, prompting Mercedes to draft in junior driver Russell from Williams for the weekend.
Russell produced a stunning display on debut for Mercedes despite minimal preparation, qualifying second and leading the majority of the race before finishing eighth due to a pit error and a late puncture.
The performance added to calls for Russell to one day move up to the senior Mercedes squad, potentially as early as 2022 when both Hamilton and team-mate Valtteri Bottas are out of contract.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was recently asked in an interview with Austrian newspaper Österreich about a rumour that Hamilton and Russell were not on speaking terms.
Wolff said in the interview that he was unaware of any rift, but recognised the competition between the older and younger generations in F1.
Asked directly ahead of this weekend’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix about the rumour, Russell made clear that his relationship with Hamilton remained unchanged, and that nothing should be read into them not speaking specifically about the Sakhir race.
“I think the question towards me was did you speak to Lewis after Bahrain, and no, we didn’t speak, as we wouldn’t speak after any other race,” Russell said.
“We are racing against each other. If we see each other in the paddock, we would speak. We’ve seen each other this year, a little fist bump along the way, and that’s the same as it’s been since 2019 and last year before the Bahrain Grand Prix.
“My relationship towards Lewis is the same as it is with a lot of the drivers up and down the paddock, which is completely fine.
“So there’s no hard feelings and no issues between myself and Lewis.”
Russell is out of contract with Williams at the end of the season, adding to the suggestions that he could step up to Mercedes’ squad for next year, particularly off the back of his display in Sakhir.
Mercedes has always stressed its first port of call when discussing plans for 2022 would lie with current drivers Hamilton and Bottas.
Asked by Motorsport.com if he had given any consideration to life outside of the Mercedes umbrella for 2022 should a senior seat not be available, Russell said the idea was not “even crossing my mind at the moment”.
“They have their faith in me, I have my faith in them, and time will tell,” Russell said.
“It’s been clear since day one since 2016 when I signed for Mercedes, do the job on the track and the opportunities will come, and that has been the case through GP3, F2, and then with my career in Formula 1.
“Obviously we signed the three-year deal [with Williams] back in 2018. Let’s wait and see. At the moment, that thought hasn’t even crossed my mind.”