George Russell believes he could have fought for victory at Albert Park on Sunday, before a red flag and retirement derailed his bid in Melbourne.
Starting from the front row, Russell had an excellent getaway and passed polesitter Max Verstappen at Turn 1, leading from Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton in the opening stages as the Red Bull driver fell behind.
But after Alex Albon crashed into the barriers at Turn 7, Russell opted to pit for fresh tyres when the Safety Car was deployed – with that being seemingly the correct strategy call at the time as it offered him a ‘cheaper’ stop.
But that would then backfire on him as the race was soon red flagged afterwards, with gravel strewn across the track surface from where the Williams driver had bounced back towards the edge of the asphalt and the marshals needing to clear the racing line.
This dropped Russell to seventh in the running order at the restart, and while he made good headway back up to fourth, his power unit then failed on him – catching fire on the pit straight and forcing him to retire from the race, ending a weekend in which the Briton had shown plenty of potential behind the wheel.
With Mercedes having struggled to get anywhere near the dominant pace of Red Bull in the early part of the season, Russell took great encouragement from how he and his car were performing at the weekend – even feeling he could have gone on to win on Sunday.
“As soon as I came through the high speed [Turns] 9 and 10, I felt something go and that was it, three corners later, I was stopped – so when it’s not your day, it’s not your day, I guess,” Russell told Sky Sports F1 after the race.
“I felt really comfortable, felt strong. The pace has been great all weekend, and when you look at it, every time we’ve done something, I think we’ve maximised it.
“We had a great qualifying yesterday, we couldn’t have been any better. The start was great, the first stint was really well managed.
“I could have extended that stint quite a lot, obviously Lewis was pushing really hard behind me, but seeing the tyres afterwards I would have probably been good thereafter.
“And I see no reason why we couldn’t have probably won today because, looking at the pace of Max, I’m sure he was just managing but it would have been difficult for him to pass, especially with Lewis between the two of us. So, really disappointed.”
Verstappen would eventually breeze past Hamilton for the lead of the race and take a comfortable victory around Albert Park, but the seven-time World Champion’s second place finish was evidence that the W14 was able to be in the hunt in Australia.
But there was still a clear pace advantage Red Bull and Verstappen had to the rest of the field, and Russell acknowledged there is still work for Mercedes to do to get on terms with them – and leaving Australia without points is a tough pill to swallow for now.
“They’re a long way ahead of everybody,” Russell admitted. “I think when they really turn it up, they’re probably five, six, seven-tenths [per lap] ahead of the rest, so we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“But for now, we’ve got to take the positives of this weekend and as I said, every time I hit the track, we probably couldn’t have done any more and I take pride in that.
“But, you know, I’m stood here when the race is still ongoing and that’s pretty disappointing in any circumstance, especially when you travel to the other side of the world and you get nothing from doing everything you could have.”
Mercedes head to Baku now nine points behind P2 holders Aston Martin in the Constructors’ Championship, who scored P3 and P4 finishes in Australia, Alonso’s third P3 and podium visit in as many races to start the season.