Mercedes’ George Russell says he thrives under the pressure to deliver that perfect lap under qualifying conditions.
And it was during that stint when he developed a reputation for delivering some stellar laps in qualifying, securing P2 on the grid in Belgium and P3 in Russia in 2021 undoubtedly being the crowning achievements.
Russell duly has picked up the nickname of ‘Mr Saturday’ in reference to his one-lap heroics, explaining the challenge of nailing that lap of perfection brings out the best in him.
“It’s the high-pressure stakes of qualifying – you go out there, you’ve got one lap to do the business, the pressure is on and the world is watching,” he told Crash.net.
“It just excites me and I thrive on that pressure to go out there and deliver. I think for a lot of drivers, it’s the most exciting part of the weekend. It’s when your car is at its fastest and when everything is on the line.
“It’s like a sprint, the race being more of a marathon, managing it to the end. You can’t sprint every lap of a race because you’d be burned out, you’d tire the engine and the brakes.
“But in qualifying you are not holding anything back, you are unleashing everything and that’s what I enjoy.”
Russell describes the feeling of extracting every drop of performance from an F1 car in qualifying as like being on a rollercoaster, the “fastest ride of your life”.
“That feeling when you’ve managed to accomplish something special over one lap is pure elation and the adrenalin is absolutely pumping because it’s all on the line for such a short period of time,” said the 23-year-old.
“It’s sort of just being at one with the car. You need faith and confidence in the car. You need it to react as you want it to and you just feel like you are on this roller coaster ride, going as fast as possible and everything else is blurred out.
“You are focused on one thing and that’s corner after corner after corner and just going as fast as possible. It truly feels like you are just on this roller coaster going for an incredible ride, the fastest ride of your life.
“Every single weekend it feels like this. When you do a great job the adrenalin is there, so it’s like you are in control of this marvellous roller coaster ride.”
While Russell’s qualifying performances in 2021 were often great in the dry, when the track was wet he suddenly could transform into a pole position contender.
Understandably, he sees his lap in Belgium for P2 on the grid as one of his best in Formula 1 having been denied pole by Max Verstappen in the closing moments of Q3 on the wet track.
Russell explained that when the track is dry, it is all about building a rhythm throughout the three sessions, but a perfect lap in the wet is not possible – it is all about getting the best out of the conditions.
“The thing with the wet lap is because the conditions are constantly changing, you are on the limit but the grip is different lap after lap, corner after corner, so no driver can perfect a lap as they can in the dry,” said Russell of that Spa P2 lap.
“In the dry, you are building up to it in Q1, Q2, Q3 and you’ve got that rhythm and you’ve got to be really on the limit. But of course that lap, given the circumstances, given everything, it was absolutely one of my best without a doubt.”
That said, Russell actually picks out the 2021 British Grand Prix as his best qualifying display, where he made it into Q3 before putting his Williams FW43B P8 on the grid in front of the expectant home crowd.
“I think Silverstone was pretty special, getting into Q3 and Austria going into Q3 again on the medium tyres, outqualifying Ferrari on softs. I’d say those [and Spa] are the three laps this year that really stand out for me,” Russell explained.
“Probably Silverstone being my best because every single time I left the pits, the whole grandstand was cheering and standing up. I could see in my peripheral vision, even on the lap, that everyone was standing up as I drove by, and that element of expectation that is upon you is so enormous.
“Also, the team sent me out when the track was at its quietest, so it was often just myself on track and the limelight was absolutely 100% on you.
“That’s when the pressure is at its highest and to complete a lap that was one of your best, at your home race in front of the crowd when all eyes are on you, was pretty spectacular.”
Marko questions whether Russell hype is ‘justified’
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