After the high of Sao Paulo and the belief they were on the right track with the W13, George Russell says Mercedes’ disappointing Abu Dhabi performance was a welcome “reality check”.
With Mercedes showing good pace in Austin and Mexico, motorsport boss Toto Wolff was asked what he’d prefer, a race win or second place in the Constructors’ Champion. He said a win.
One race later Russell handed the Austrian his wish, winning the sprint race at the Sao Paulo weekend to secure pole position for the grand prix, a race he won ahead of his team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
It was Mercedes’ first 1-2 and it meant they went into the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix with a shot at second place as they trailed Ferrari by 19 points.
But while it was a good weekend for the Scuderia, the same cannot be said of Mercedes.
Hamilton and Russell qualified fifth and sixth, both eight-tenths down on the pole position time, and while Russell made up one position on the Sunday, it was because Hamilton retired.
“I think it’s a bit of a reality check for all of us,” he told Motorsport.com. “And very much needed, because we still recognise that we’ve got a lot to do if we want to fight with Red Bull next season.
“Clearly we have a car with a huge amount of potential, but unfortunately that performance window is far too narrow.
“And those performance swings we’ve seen from the highs of Budapest, Brazil, Mexico, Singapore comparing to the likes of here, Monza, Spa are just far too vast.”
The Yas Marina race also saw the return of Mercedes’ porpoising problem.
While the W13 has barely bounced in recent weeks, it was all over the place in Abu Dhabi with Hamilton revealing after qualifying that the “bouncing is back with a vengeance”.
Russell hopes the FIA’s 2023 floor tweaks at the very least help Mercedes minimise the problem.
“I think we weren’t the only team to have experienced a bit of porpoising in this year,” said the 34-year-old. “The changes the FIA are making with the raised floor edge are going to be an improvement in that regard.
“It definitely adds quite a lot of fatigue. I forgot what it was like to drive with the car bouncing around through the corners, down the straight a little bit.
“I’ll be happy if I turn up to Bahrain next year with none of that.”
For now, though, he’s going to take a welcome break and reflect on a season that included his maiden race win and his best-ever finish in the championship.
Russell finished the season P4 with 275 points, only the third team to beat Hamilton in his 16-year F1 career, with Mercedes third in the Constructors’ standings.
“I’m incredibly proud of what we achieved last week, but I’m here to try and become F1 world champion, and we’ve got a long road ahead of us,” he said.
“For sure it’s good to get it off your back, but you’re only as good as your last race, as they say, and the last race was here in Abu Dhabi. We finished fifth as a team [here].
“I’m fourth in the championship. I’m going to look back with a lot of pride on the season, but equally knowing there’s a lot to improve if we want to fight with Max [Verstappen].”