George Russell explains Mercedes’ lack of pace, predicts Max Verstappen win

Henry Valantine
George Russell in the media pen. Spa August 2022.

Mercedes driver George Russell speaks to the media in Belgium. Spa August 2022.

George Russell believes the cool conditions in Belgium contributed to Mercedes’ deficit in qualifying, but added the pace advantage held by Max Verstappen makes him favourite for the race win – despite starting down in P15.

The World Championship leader was well clear of everyone else in qualifying on Saturday, but he is one of seven drivers set to take an engine penalty for the race.

Verstappen will start down on the eighth row as a result, but he held a 1.8 second advantage over Lewis Hamilton in Q3, and 2.1 seconds clear of Russell.

The Mercedes driver, who took his first career pole position in Hungary, was left perplexed at just how far his team had fallen behind Red Bull and Ferrari at Spa.

“[I] struggle to comprehend how you’re on pole at the last race and we’re 1.8 seconds off today, and not obviously just to Max, but we were six tenths behind the Alpines,” Russell told Sky F1 after qualifying.

“Always when the temperature’s cold, we struggle. We saw it in Imola this year, we’ve seen it in many of the Fridays when it’s been a cool Friday.

“We just can’t seem to get the tyres working, so it’s pretty frustrating.

“Confident we’ll have a lot more pace tomorrow compared to the Alpines, the McLarens and the Williams as well.

“But you know, we’ll still be probably half a second or a second behind Red Bull and Ferrari.”

Verstappen’s grid drop means Carlos Sainz will start ahead of Sergio Perez on the front row and, while Russell and Hamilton were only good enough for seventh and eighth on pure pace, other penalties will see Hamilton promoted to P4 behind Fernando Alonso, while Russell will start fifth.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner explained that the logic behind the timing of Verstappen’s engine penalty came as a result of the comparative ease with which cars can overtake at Spa.

As a result of the passing opportunities on track, Russell believes the extra speed held by the Dutchman still puts him in prime position for victory, despite his lowly grid slot.

“I think Max will probably still win the race,” he said. “I don’t know where he’s going to be starting but with the pace he’s got he’ll probably still win the race.

“And then Charles [Leclerc] as well, he’ll probably come through, so I think it’s unlikely we’ll be on the podium tomorrow in all honesty.

“We’ve still got Carlos and Checo there and Max is going to slice through the field pretty quickly.

“We need to look overnight, try and understand it. Qualifying’s out the way, which has been our weak point, and try and be faster tomorrow.”