George Russell predicts qualifying at the Marina Bay circuit could come down to “milliseconds”, although he’s worried Ferrari have yet to turn up their engines.
After their Monza gains at what was a low downforce circuit, Ferrari’s rivals weren’t sure what could come from the Scuderia at Singapore’s high downforce track.
It was, at least based on Friday’s timesheets, another step forward.
Can Mercedes fight for the front row in Singapore?
Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc clinched the 1-2 on Friday night, the Spaniard 0.235s ahead of Russell, whose teammate Lewis Hamilton was a further two-tenths down.
That both Mercedes teammates outpaced the Red Bull was a good start to the weekend for Mercedes but Russell expects it could be closer come Saturday’s qualifying. Milliseconds close.
“It’s definitely probably our best Friday of the year so far,” said the 25-year-old. “But it is definitely really close between probably five teams at the moment, which is pretty exciting.
“So we will have to work hard overnight, and try and gain those last milliseconds ahead of tomorrow.”
He, however, admits he’s wary of Ferrari’s pace as he doesn’t feel they had their engines at the max on Friday.
“Ferrari are looking favourites at the moment and I don’t think they were maximum [with their] power unit as well,” added Russell. “They’ve probably got a couple more tenths in the pocket.
“The fight is probably for the second row. But we never know what’s going to happen.
“The tyres are going to be key: when we have the C5, the softest compound, just getting it in the sweet spot you can find tenths of a second so easily.
“So we just need to find that sweet spot, try to nail every single lap, and find ourselves in a good position.”
But calling Mercedes’ W14 a “little bit of a surprise box”, Russell’s team boss Toto Wolff has downplayed the team’s chances of a strong showing in Singapore despite the nature of the track suiting the car.
“I wouldn’t want to talk about high downforce and low downforce because it’s more nuanced like this,” he said.
“Certainly, looking at the past races, we were better when it was about high downforce rather than the top-speed circuits like Monza and Spa.
“But it’s a fight every time you come to one of these races. It’s a fight from the get-go and that’s why we can’t predict we’re going to be good.”