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Hamilton against Leclerc and Russell as team leader – F1 Q&A

Formula 1 moves back into Europe for the start of a triple-header with this weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has a comfortable lead in the drivers’ championship but McLaren, Ferrari and Mercedes have challenged him strongly in recent races.

BBC Sport F1 correspondent Andrew Benson answers your questions before the race in Barcelona.

Do the drivers get wet and cold driving in conditions like Canada? – Glen

Cold? Definitely not. Or certainly not at grands prix. Driving an F1 car is a very high-intensity physical activity, even when the forces are reduced because the grip is lower in the wet. There are times in winter testing in Europe in especially low temperatures when drivers’ hands and feet can get cold, however.

Wet? Up to a point, yes. But a lot less wet than you might think. Obviously the cockpit is open, but at racing speeds the rain goes over it, unless the intensity is very high, in which case the race will tend to be stopped anyway. Under a safety car, or waiting at the end of the pit lane in the rain, then drivers might notice it, but otherwise, not really.

What happened to Ferrari in the Canadian Grand Prix? – Peter

The race is easily explained. Charles Leclerc lost power from the second lap with an engine problem that ultimately led to his retirement. And Carlos Sainz incurred damage to his front wing and floor from a collision with Valtteri Bottas’ Sauber on lap one and the car lacked performance as a result from then on. He then spun late in the race and took out himself and Williams’ Alex Albon.

The real question is is why were they were slow on Saturday – both in the dry conditions of final practice and the wet in qualifying. Leclerc and Sainz qualified 11th and 12th, which nobody expected going into Montreal.

Ferrari have conducted an intense analysis of Canada in the week since the race and they say they “didn’t get the best out of the conditions and our qualifying positions compromised our race”.

What they have not yet revealed is why that was the case. But in these cases where a team is randomly completely out of the right ballpark, the suspicion usually falls on tyres. The likelihood seems to be that Ferrari were not getting their tyres up to the correct operating temperature – probably to do with the combination of a car that has been designed to be kind to tyres and a new, low-abrasion track surface.

It did not help, however, that they sent their drivers out on used tyres for the final runs in second qualifying, after using new tyres for their first runs. This is the opposite from what might be expected and not the optimum choice – but Ferrari planned their session around their belief it would rain later on, when in fact it did not.

There was another major tyre error in the race, when Leclerc was put on slicks just as it was starting to rain properly again mid-race. But by then his race was effectively over anyway.

Do you think Lewis Hamilton will struggle against Charles Leclerc next season? – James

The question of how Lewis Hamilton will do at Ferrari next year is one of the most intriguing in F1.

Right now, Hamilton is struggling in his final year at Mercedes, by his own high standards. He would admit that himself, if perhaps not use that exact word. As he put it after Montreal: “I have some work to do to improve. Once I start driving with my head, I should be able to get some better results.”

Of course, Hamilton is one of the greatest drivers of all time – statistically, the greatest of all. His motivation will be sky high and he will be completely dedicated and committed to winning the World Championship at Ferrari. After all, winning that eighth title that he believes should already be his after what he perceives to be the injustice of Abu Dhabi 2021 is his single biggest reason for staying in F1.

But the size of the task he faces should not be underestimated. For one thing, he is going to a new team in another country and another culture and it will inevitably take time for him to become fully conversant with that and get the best from himself and Ferrari.

For another, Leclerc is incredibly fast – many people in F1 think he might even be the fastest driver in the sport over one lap. So out-qualifying him will not be easy – and at the moment Hamilton is not out-qualifying George Russell either.

Hamilton is 8-1 down on the qualifying head-to-head at Mercedes this season and the average gap between them is bigger than it has been since Russell joined the team, at 0.101secs. The previous two seasons have gone Hamilton’s way one year and Russell’s the next, and the margin between them was considerably smaller than that both times.

Mercedes' George Russell just ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton at the Canadian Grand Prix 

George Russell passed team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages of the Canadian Grand Prix to take third position

Can Mercedes have confidence that George Russell can lead the team in 2025? He seems mistake-prone at key moments. – Marcus

George Russell is an elite F1 driver, as he has proved from his comparison with Lewis Hamilton in their two and a bit seasons as team-mates – Russell has given away little if anything to the seven-time champion in terms of pure performance.

It is true to say that he has made the odd error from time to time. And that was particularly the case in Canada. As Russell admitted himself, key mistakes compromised his race and perhaps cost him a chance to challenge Max Verstappen for the win.

The sense was that Russell, starved of success for so long after more than two difficult seasons at Mercedes, was perhaps over-reaching in his quest for a long-awaited victory. But the data-set of races when he has been fighting at the front is so small that it would be wrong to assume that this is an inherent characteristic of him as a driver. Let’s not forget that he was flawless in his delivery of a win in Brazil in 2022.

There is, therefore, no obvious reason why Russell could not lead Mercedes next season after Hamilton leaves.

Do you think it is wrong to punish a driver that is leading the race when a safety car comes out and he has passed the pit-stop entry? – Nick

There are all sorts of ways rules can be written with regard to safety cars, in terms of the degree to which competitors are exposed to the randomness they can introduce.

Should the pit lane be closed or remain open? For how long? When should it be open? Etc etc. There is, after all, something to be said for allowing space for such things to be a throw of the dice to one degree or another. It spices races up.

F1’s rule makers and teams are aware that there is a risk safety cars can throw in a curve ball for teams, but generally they feel that the sport has the balance about right. They accept there is a risk things can go wrong but also that over time it tends to balance out.

There was an example of this in Canada, when Max Verstappen referenced “payback for Miami”. He had lost out to Lando Norris because of a safety car at the Hard Rock Stadium, but benefited by the McLaren driver not stopping straight away when the safety car was first deployed in Montreal.

We see more and more coverage of female racing drivers now but just how close are we to seeing one competing in F1 in the next five years? – Adam

Most in F1 would like to see a competitive female driver at the very top of the sport; at the same time, everyone recognises that this should not be about tokenism.

Susie Wolff, the managing director of the all-female F1 Academy, spoke about getting a woman into F1 last year and said “it is going to take a long time” and the priority was to “increase the talent pool for the best to rise up and only then will we be able to open the door to F1”.

Whoever makes it has to deserve it, and be good enough to stick around. Right now, the teams believe there is no-one obvious who fits the bill, but the hope is that as time goes by a female driver who meets the standard will emerge.

As someone who grew up watching F1 and is now old enough to go and see a race myself, which track do you recommend going to first? – Alice

There are plenty of options to watch a grand prix live. If you live in the UK, Silverstone is a superb event. The atmosphere is terrific, the track is awesome and its latest layout seems to generate great racing. And these days the traffic is not even that bad. I would recommend starting there if it’s your home race.

The only downside of Silverstone is that it is so flat that viewing is not the best, even if seeing an F1 car through Copse and Becketts is an experience not to be missed.

In the rest of Europe, I would recommend Monza, Monaco and Spa as the best all-round experiences. They’re very different but each has a special magic.

And if you don’t mind partaking in a four-day, all-orange, Max Verstappen party, Zandvoort is quite well organised – you can stay in Amsterdam or Harlem and get the train to and from the track if you cannot find a place to stay in Zandvoort. Although it can be a bit of a crush on the way back to the station in the evening.

If you have a bit more money to spend, Austin is hard to beat as an all-round experience. Great track and great city – although hotel rooms are expensive. –