Mercedes taking ‘drastic’ test approach as George Russell highlights main W15 issue

Jamie Woodhouse
George Russell wearing headphones in the Mercedes garage at Suzuka

Mercedes driver George Russell

George Russell admits the start of the F1 2024 calendar has “exposed” a critical weakness of the W15, which Mercedes can see in the data, but fixing it is “another question”. 

For the first time this season, Russell suffered qualifying defeat to Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton at Suzuka, though despite Hamilton’s upbeat response to that breakthrough, P7 on the grid for him and P9 for Russell at the Japanese Grand Prix falls far below what Mercedes were hoping for in the early stages of the season.

High-speed struggles a thorn in side of Mercedes

Russell spoke of fine margins as he claimed to be on a lap good enough for P4 on the grid until a key error, though Russell said this cannot hide the fact that Mercedes are lacking performance through high-speed corners.

“I think we predicted before the session to be about one tenth between ourselves, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston [Martin],” Russell told media at Suzuka.

“And when it comes to that one lap in qualifying, if you nail it, or you don’t quite nail it, that can be the difference these days of six positions.

“I was on a really strong lap, two and a half tenths up by Turn 11 and expecting to maybe finish four tenths ahead and made one small mistake and lost all the time. That was a bit of a shame.

“But we know the strengths and weaknesses of our car. The weaknesses is the high-speed corners. And when you get to qualifying and you take the fuel out, the corners are becoming faster and faster and faster. So the pace naturally sort of goes away from us a bit in those corners.

“Unfortunately, just with the nature of this calendar, we’ve had three circuits in a row that are all high speed. If we started the season at Bahrain, Baku and Singapore, we’d probably be talking a very different picture for us.”

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Russell said Mercedes are going to some “drastic” measures currently in a bid to address this weakness, though correlation issues are severely hampering that process as the data they are studying from the simulator is not matching what the real W15 is doing.

“We’re definitely doing more drastic test items at the moment to try and get on top of this high-speed performance,” Russell revealed.

“The car is correlating well in the low speed and the medium speed. But we’re a long way off in the high speed compared to what we’re seeing back at base. So we need to get on top of that.

“And as I said, when you get to qualifying and the fuel comes out, the speeds are only going higher, higher and higher. And that sort of runs away from us slightly.

“Whereas in the race, you’re probably going around the corners 30kph slower in a high-speed [corner], which brings it back into more of a medium-speed corner rather than a high-speed one.

“We need to understand that and it’s good that it’s been exposed this early in the season.

“We see it in the data what’s happening. How to solve that is another question.

“We’ve had a few different specifications aerodynamically on the car in these first four races. Certainly, the one we’ve had in the last two weeks has been a little bit more consistent.

“But inherently in the car, we’re missing something in those high speeds. It’s definitely a bit of a shame, because I think we could be much more competitive if we were there and as we saw in Bahrain, qualifying P3, in the race, we were on course for a P2 before the engine problem.”

Russell’s ultimate finishing position of P5 in Bahrain remains Mercedes’ best result so far in F1 2024.

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