The last time Formula 1 passed through Silverstone, in the heart of England, the duel between Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen was of rare intensity. The Briton emerged triumphant from the 2021 British Grand Prix, playing bumper cars with his rival. A year later, the picture changed. It is with much less certainty that Hamilton, his young teammate, George Russell, and their Mercedes team approach this home meeting, which will start on Sunday July 3.

In nine races this season, the two British drivers have yet to win. To their credit, only five podiums: two for the seven-time world champion and three for the newcomer to Mercedes.

Behind Red Bull and Ferrari – the two teams dominating this first half of the season – the German manufacturer is hanging on despite a car, the W13, which Hamilton recently described as “the worst he has ever driven”. But at the last Grand Prix of Canada, on June 19, the latter signed a comforting podium, three months after another, in Bahrain, at the start of the season.

Although the Silverstone circuit has characteristics that suit Mercedes (a fairly smooth track and fast corners), team principal Toto Wolff is moderately optimistic: “Our car is happy here, but we don’t want not be too confident that we’re going to “bust” everyone. We were after Barcelona [3rd and 5th] and we were disappointed,” he told Le Monde.

Technical problems at Mercedes

Although he knows that his 2022 version car still needs a lot of work, the Austrian can count on his drivers. “Normally, in a stable, everything is compartmentalized. Each pilot works with his engineers, observes the fiftieth anniversary. Between them, there is a real interaction. »

Mercedes Track Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin agrees: “George and Lewis are very committed to problem solving. They work closely together to try to raise the level of the team because we know that at the moment we are not fast enough. »

However, it was not won between the champion, known to be tough with teammates who can compete with him – which was not the case with the Finn Valtteri Bottas last season – and the young talent, who is offered his first luck in such a stable. But, since March, for lack of good results, it is the sacred union at Mercedes, which struggles with technical problems. In question, in particular, what is called porpoising, that is to say the effect of rebounds on the track, which cause pilots back and head pain. “The general problems inherent in these 2022 cars are far from being solved, analyzes George Russell. We are still far from where we need to be. »

As he enters his fourth season in F1 at just 24 years old, George Russell, reputed to be very demanding – “it looks like he has been with us for ten years”, marvels Toto Wolff – is the better placed of the two drivers. He is 74 points behind championship leader Verstappen and Mercedes is 116 behind Red Bull in the constructors’ standings. Because before competing against each other, you must already be able to compete with the fastest cars. A truism that these two pilots have integrated. “They know that you have to find solutions for the car first, recalls the team director. We double the speed of development if we collaborate. It is pragmatism. »

Closing the gap with the competition

And if the youngest has dominated his eldest seven times out of nine in the race, there is no question of unbolting the idol. Because if the controversial loss of his title, in December 2021, marked Lewis Hamilton, Toto Wolff has rather noted, this year, “bad luck” than “non-performance”. “We will never digest the end of last season, but we have to accept it, explains the boss of the team. It will get back in order. Lewis is very strong in his head. »

The German manufacturer is working tirelessly to try to close the gap that separates it from the competition. Andrew Shovlin would almost come to regret the period 2013-2016, when Hamilton was fighting fiercely for the title against teammate Nico Rosberg. “We know how to handle this kind of situation better. I like to think we’ll handle it well when it comes up again,” the chief engineer at Mercedes wants to believe.

To have the right to a battle at the top between Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, which would divide all that counts in Great Britain of Formula 1 fans into two camps, the team will have to earn again the nickname of its single-seaters, the “ Silver Arrows”. “The reality is that we need to set a development direction that will carry us for years to come. For the moment, we are still focused on this championship, analyzes Andrew Shovlin. There may be a time later in the year when we have to decide: can we make it or not? »

And time is running out because the engineer concedes, “the longer it lasts, the more improbable it becomes”. Can you imagine Lewis Hamilton staying another year fighting for the top spots, or even George Russell chomping at the bit? “It’s our duty to provide a car that goes fast and can win races and championships,” said Toto Wolff. For example from Silverstone.