Why George Russell needed just ‘two more laps’ in Austrian GP sprint race

Oliver Harden
Mercedes driver George Russell looks tense ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix sprint race. Styria, July 2023.

Mercedes driver George Russell looks tense ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix sprint race. Styria, July 2023.

George Russell believes he could have finished three places higher in the Austrian Grand Prix sprint had the race at the Red Bull Ring lasted just two more laps.

After a hydraulic problem in Saturday’s spring shootout left him a disappointing 15th on the grid, Russell became the first driver to pit for slick tyres with eight laps remaining as the track started to dry in a bold attempt to score points.

The gamble worked a treat with Russell jumping a number of cars to pick up a point for P8, crossing the finish line just 0.009 seconds behind seventh-placed Esteban Ocon.

George Russell says fifth place was possible in sprint

With the drivers towards the front electing to make it to the end on intermediates, Russell reckons the likes of Ocon and Aston Martin team-mates Lance Stroll and Fernando Alonso – who finished fourth and fifth respectively – would have been easy meat had the race been two laps longer.

He told Sky Sports F1: “[I wouldn’t say it’s] easy to overtake other cars but when you’ve got a five-second advantage or whatever with the tyres, it was pretty straightforward.

“I think [with] two more laps we would have been three positions higher, so it shows how marginal it was.”

Russell has developed a reputation for making bold strategic choices in variable conditions in recent years, having also gambled on dry tyres on a damp track in Canada and Singapore last season.

The British driver has revealed his call in Styria was a joint decision between himself and Mercedes, claiming he was comfortable with taking the gamble after a disappointing qualifying result.

He explained: “It was definitely a combination. For me, it was definitely slicks. I said the lap before: ‘If this was qualifying, I’d be pitting now.’

“The thing you don’t know as a driver is, with [eight] laps ago, are you going to be able to regain those positions? I was happy to make that decision.

“It’s always challenging. When you’re in the slipstream of cars there’s still a lot of spray even when the track’s semi-dry so you’re trying to judge: ‘Is it dry? Is that spray coming from proper wetness on the track? Or just dampness?’

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“I’m happy to make that call. I think, after a bad qualifying, these are the conditions you pray for. If I was top five on the grid, you probably wouldn’t be feeling the same way.”

Russell added that the most treacherous part of the circuit was actually the pit lane, with the cars speeding up the drying effect on the track itself.

“The most challenging part was coming out of the pit lane, because obviously we’re driving on the track and drying the track,” he said. “No one’s driving in the pit lane so the pit lane was the wettest point.”

Russell will start Sunday’s grand prix for 11th after a poor showing in Friday’s qualifying session, with the former Williams driver outqualified by team-mate Lewis Hamilton at all four rounds since Mercedes welcomed a major upgrade package in Monaco.

He suffered his second retirement of the 2023 season at the previous race in Canada after sustaining damage to his W14 following a collision with a concrete wall.

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