George Russell has dismissed suggestions that Lewis Hamilton is happier with the upgraded Mercedes W14, claiming his team-mate “is still struggling” himself despite an upturn in results.
Having started behind Russell at four of the first five races of 2023, Hamilton has qualified ahead of his team-mate at all four rounds since Mercedes introduced a major upgrade package in Monaco.
While Hamilton claimed consecutive podium finishes in Spain and Canada, Russell was eliminated in Q2 in Barcelona before crashing early in the race in Montreal.
George Russell rejects claims of Lewis Hamilton breakthrough
Russell’s troubles continued in Friday qualifying at the Austrian Grand Prix, where he could only manage 11th as Hamilton set a time good enough to start Sunday’s race from fifth.
It has been claimed the Mercedes inter-team battle is following a similar pattern to that seen in 2022, when Russell started strongly before Hamilton established a marginal yet decisive pace advantage as the car improved across the campaign.
Speaking after an eighth-place finish in Saturday’s sprint race at the Red Bull Ring, however, Russell feels Hamilton’s improved results are masking his continuing struggles with the car.
Asked if Hamilton is more comfortable with the W14 in its revised state, he told Sky Sports F1: “I don’t think so. It’s just one of those things, you sort of [get] a bit of a groove, a bit of a rhythm.
“Lewis is still struggling a lot with the car. I think it’s just more that I’ve taken a bit of a step backwards. [I’ve] got some some ideas why that is but it’s fine details.
“It’s been a tricky few races for me personally, not feeling super happy with the car – especially yesterday.
“Today was a much more positive day – it was obviously a bit of a shame we didn’t get a chance to progress in [the sprint shootout] with the [hydraulic] problem we had – but [I’m] looking forward to Silverstone already to start a full weekend, fresh start, go again and try and get some form back.”
Having failed to reach Q3 at two of the last three races, Russell admitted he is struggling with the car in qualifying trim in particular, but insisted Mercedes are not the only ones after Ferrari were unable to replicate their strong Friday pace on Saturday in Austria.
He explained: “It’s especially in qualifying. It’s just getting those tyres in the right window.
“We see it with Haas and Williams week in, week out – they just manage to get switched on and get the tyres in the right window. We obviously excel on a Sunday.
“But you see how challenging it is. Look at Ferrari today: they were half a tenth off pole yesterday, eight tenths off pole today [and] the only thing that’s changed is the weather, so it shows the fine margins that all of us are working with.
“The tyres are the only thing on the car that we don’t make ourselves, and you’re given a product and you can’t even take that product back home with you to analyse or do your own testing with, so it’s [a case of]: ‘Here’s what you’ve got and deal with it.’
“If we could take that tyre home and chop it up and [the] brilliant engineers would then probably be able to understand it more, but obviously Pirelli believe that’s their secret recipe and want to keep hold of it.
“It makes it interesting, but it’s equally very frustrating for everyone.”
On his expectations for the Austrian GP, Russell insisted he is still targeting a strong result despite his unflattering grid position.
“Excited for the race,” he commented. “I hope the rain stays away, I want a clean race. Top five, I think, we can aim for and go from there.