George Russell ‘shocked’ after seeing gap to Red Bull after qualifying

Thomas Maher
Mercedes' George Russell driving during qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix.

Mercedes' George Russell driving during qualifying at the Japanese Grand Prix.

George Russell believes Mercedes are facing a tough race on Sunday at Suzuka, admitting it’s not the best circuit for the W14.

The British driver qualified in eighth place for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, just behind Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton – the swooping and flowing Suzuka circuit not playing to the strengths of the W14.

Having been amongst the star performers at last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix, the contrast from weekend to weekend – particularly with Red Bull resuming their usual position at the front of the field – had George Russell shocked after the qualifying session ended as he was 1.3 seconds slower than Verstappen’s pole time.

George Russell: The drop down the field is a shock to the system

Speaking to media after claiming his eighth place grid slot in what was a subdued qualifying session from Mercedes, Russell said that their final positions sum up where the car is in the pecking order at a track demanding huge aerodynamic efficiency.

“I’d say it’s a fair representation of how we are on circuits like this when there’s a big contrast of corners, when you’ve got very high-speed corners and very low-speed corners as well – we struggle to cover all aspects,” he said.

“Whereas, on circuits where it’s all one type of corner, sort of like we saw last week in Singapore, we can nail a sweet spot of the car and maximize the downforce.

“So [it’s] no big surprise, obviously, a bit of a shock to the system. But, when you think about it, rationally, it’s about what we’d expect.”

As for what Mercedes might be able to achieve from seventh and eighth, Russell said strategy options might open things up but, on pure pace, isn’t expecting to make much progress.

“I think it’s going to be challenging. The inherent pace of the car that we saw today will remain tomorrow. I think the gaps will close up, but not substantially,” he said.

“I think we’ve got two hard tyres compared to a lot of other teams. So that might be a small advantage. But, at the end of the day, if you’re struggling in the high-speed, you slide around and you wear the tyres even more, so there’s no reason why McLaren and Ferrari shouldn’t have probably less degradation than we will.

“Maybe we can find an opportunity with the strategy, it will be at least a two-stop race tomorrow which is always quite fun and gives some different opportunities but the order should stay as it is.

George Russell: We know Suzuka wasn’t Mercedes’ best circuit

Heading into the final handful of races of the 2023 F1 season, Russell said that the formbook has played out roughly as Mercedes had expected coming to Suzuka.

“It’s a difficult weekend so far,” he said.

“We knew it wasn’t gonna be our best circuit. We knew McLaren were going to be very, very quick and we knew Red Bull were going to return to their norm.

“It’s always a bit shocking when you see the gap on paper. But everybody has good tracks, and difficult tracks. Last week was a good track, this week is a tough track so we’ll try and maximise it tomorrow and see what we can do.”

Read Next: Winners and losers from the 2023 Japanese Grand Prix qualifying