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‘I couldn’t turn’ – Hamilton explains Japanese GP issue that caused him to let team mate Russell past

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SUZUKA, JAPAN - APRIL 07: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1

Lewis Hamilton was left to rue the struggles he faced with his Mercedes during the Japanese Grand Prix, with the seven-time world champion explaining after the race that he opted to let team mate George Russell pass him because of the problems.

After sounding positive about improvements to the W15 following Saturday’s qualifying session, Hamilton started the race from P7 on the grid, two places ahead of Russell. When the event was red-flagged following a first-lap collision between Alex Albon and Daniel Ricciardo, both Mercedes cars swapped their tyre strategies to the hard compound.

READ MORE: Verstappen leads home Perez for Red Bull one-two at Japanese GP after early drama

Russell initially looked to have better pace on this rubber, prompting Hamilton to ask over team radio in the early stages of the race: “Shall I let George by?”

By the chequered flag, Russell crossed the line in P7, just under three seconds up the road from Hamilton in P9. Asked after the race if the car had not been what he had hoped for, Hamilton responded: “The car is never what I hoped it would be. It’s never what we hoped it would be.

“I got some damage I think in the first stint at the restart with Charles [Leclerc] and I had massive understeer, like huge, huge understeer. So that’s why I decided to let George by, because he seemed quicker and I just couldn’t turn the car.

Hamilton reveals why he let Russell past early on in Japanese Grand Prix

“It took us two stints to finally dial more and more wing in to make up for that loss. Last stint, I was better, but it was too late, I had 10 seconds to regain.”

In terms of whether he can take many positives from the weekend at Suzuka, the Briton added: “I don’t know if you can take many positives from the weekend. The car finished which is good, but we’re like, you know, seventh, eighth, ninth fastest, so… yeah.”

READ MORE: Verstappen overjoyed by victory comeback at Suzuka as he says race ‘couldn’t have been better’

Russell, meanwhile, acknowledged how fine the margins currently seem to be between the teams in the battle behind Red Bull, and suggested that Mercedes had performed well given that the W15 is not generally suited to the high-speed nature of Suzuka and other recent tracks.

“We know it’s very tight out there at the moment, everyone behind the Red Bulls,” he commented. “We didn’t have a great day yesterday and ultimately paid the price today, and you’ve seen that, I think, two of the four races now, one, two-tenths between six cars on the grid. 

Tracks like Suzuka have highlighted Mercedes weaknesses – Russell

“If you qualify at the front of that pack, you’ll probably be finishing at the front of that pack. It’s quite cool that the fight is like that, it’s a shame it’s not for the win. But equally we know these last three circuits haven’t really suited the strengths of our car. So we’ll reassess next week in China.”

Ultimately Russell is hopeful that, from seeing their weaknesses at these venues, the team will be able to prioritise areas for improvement.

READ MORE: Sainz thrilled with third place in Japan after making multiple overtakes during ‘tough’ race

“I think it’s good that we’ve had these circuits to start the season, because it’s highlighted the areas we need to work on and it’s going to help us for the development for the rest of the season,” the 26-year-old said.

“In Bahrain, on a low-speed circuit, we didn’t really see the weakness of the car in its high-speed performance so we’ve got work to do to make it more versatile and better across other circuits, but as I said, it’s probably been good to start the season at these tracks.”

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