Mercedes ‘didn’t expect to be fighting Alpine’ at Japanese Grand Prix

Jon Wilde
Fernando Alonso in front of Lewis Hamilton. Monaco May 2022

Alpine driver Fernando Alonso in front of the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton. Monaco May 2022

George Russell has admitted he did not arrive for the Japanese Grand Prix weekend expecting to start behind both Alpine cars.

The Briton will line up eighth on the grid at Suzuka, two places behind his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Rows three and four on the grid both have an Alpine ahead of a Mercedes, with Esteban Ocon an excellent fifth and Fernando Alonso in seventh.

That represents a scenario Russell had not envisaged, with Mercedes usually having their sights set on Red Bull and Ferrari, who have won all 17 races this season between them, rather than looking over their shoulder at the battle for fourth place in the Constructors’ Championship being waged by Alpine and McLaren.

“It’s definitely not where we hoped to be qualifying,” Russell told Sky F1. “Sixth and eighth on the grid, it’s not our finest day for sure – probably slightly further off the pace than we anticipated.

“[We are] losing a lot of time on the straights – nothing to do with the engine, just aerodynamically we are pretty draggy. As it stands, I don’t think we are in with a shot of fighting the front four.

“We didn’t quite expect to be in the fight with Red Bull or Ferrari, but ahead of this weekend we weren’t expecting to be fighting with Alpine.

“No doubt it’s not where we want to be today. I’m confident we can move forward, but unfortunately with the pace we have I don’t think we are in the fight with Ferrari or Red Bull this weekend.

“Perhaps if we had set the car up as a qualifying car we would have been ahead of Alpine, but still we would have been behind Ferrari and Red Bull.

“We are just not fast enough, it’s as simple as that.”

Mercedes’ trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin concurred with Russell’s comments about the Mercedes area of weakness being on the straights, adding: “But the corners are not especially quick either!

“We stayed on the higher rear wing levels as the degradation in the morning (FP3) was very high and there is a growing risk of rain in the race.

“In both of those situations, the wing level should be a benefit. It won’t be a benefit getting past the Alpine cars though, which we need to do early if we stand any chance of getting into a race with Red Bull and Ferrari.”

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