Mercedes’ George Russell has warned his team’s race pace is difficult to gauge, having heavily overhauled the W13 after Friday practice.
Russell claimed his maiden pole position on Saturday at the Hungaroring, crossing the line on his final run in Q3 to snatch top spot away from Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz by just 0.044 seconds.
It appeared to be a lap seemingly out of nowhere, given Mercedes struggled for pace throughout practice, but Russell said a late night had been put in on Friday evening in a bid to understand the team’s lack of speed.
“For us as a team, [this] is massive,” Russell said in the post-qualifying press conference.
“Yesterday was probably our toughest Friday of the whole season. We were all here until 11pm last night, scratching our heads.
“Morale was pretty down and we felt pretty lost. To come back and grab pole position 24 hours later, it’s just such a feeling because I know what we went through last night.
“There are no points for qualifying but, I guess, getting this result, for all of us is pretty, pretty huge.”
Having popped up at the last second with the decisive lap, Russell explained where he felt the time had come from.
“I think today we just got it perfectly in the window on that last lap,” he said.
“I went round Turn 1 a tenth and a half up. I went round Turn 2 three tenths up and everything was just perfectly in the window.
“When you’re on one of those laps and you’re in the groove, in the rhythm, it just keeps on coming and keeps on coming.
“I think everybody struggled quite a lot with the tyres, a lot of people struggled this morning in the wet with the tyres and we’ve been going all over the place to try and get our heads around it. But, fortunately, we sort of nailed it on that last run!”
However, Russell admitted the change of setup from Friday’s practice sessions mean that the team don’t quite know what to expect in terms of long-run pace during Sunday’s race.
“It’s a total unknown, we’ve turned the car upside down since yesterday!” he explained.
“Conditions changed, it’s going to be much cooler tomorrow. High-fuel pace was probably the worst it’s ever been yesterday. And Ferrari look pretty exceptional but we’re behind the curve at the moment, we’ll be absolutely going for it, and victory is what we’re going for.
“There may be some things that we did last night that may hurt our race pace a little bit more compared to previous races, but obviously improved our qualifying pace. We really don’t know.
“Yesterday, it was 34 degrees, the track temperature was almost 60. Tomorrow is going to be 22 I believe, and the track temperature is going to be 30 degrees. So it’s a completely different ballgame.
“It might be a one-stop, might be a three-stop. We truly don’t know. So it’s not going to be an easy race. We’re gonna have to be on our toes and just take it lap by lap, step by step, but I can assure you we’ll be going for it.”
Russell’s pole means it’s his best qualifying result since qualifying for the 2021 Belgian Grand Prix, when the then-Williams driver popped up into second place during a soaking wet session. Having built a reputation as being something of a qualifying specialist, Russell was asked to compared the joy of his maiden pole against the Williams result.
“Dare I say, [it’s] better than the Spa one!” he beamed.
“I don’t think the feeling of this pole and the feeling of that Spa lap, I don’t think I’ll ever have qualifyings that will ever come close to these two feelings because, obviously, this is my first.
“As a team, we struggled so much at Williams, we were so far behind and to get that second was massive. So this is what racing is about. This is why I wake up every single day and I want to be World Champion because feelings like this is something you can only dream of.”
Looking ahead to the Hungarian Grand Prix
The Hungarian Grand Prix is the final race before Formula 1's summer break.