Why George Russell was left awestruck by Williams’ Dutch GP practice pace

Oliver Harden
Williams driver Alex Albon en route to third in Dutch Grand Prix practice at Zandvoort.

Williams driver Alex Albon en route to third in Dutch Grand Prix practice at Zandvoort.

George Russell fears there is even more to come from Williams at the Dutch Grand Prix after his former team’s starring performance in Friday practice at Zandvoort.

Alex Albon’s three points finishes have resulted in Williams’ most competitive season in years in 2023, with the team sitting seventh in the Constructors’ standings with 10 rounds remaining.

Albon and team-mate Logan Sargeant were among the most eye-catching drivers as F1 returned to action at Zandvoort, mixing it with the McLarens to be classified fifth and seventh in FP1.

Williams practice pace catches George Russell’s eye

While Sargeant faded to 12th in FP2, Albon forced his way into third – only behind Lando Norris and Max Verstappen and ahead of Russell’s Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Russell spent three seasons at Williams between 2019 and 2021 before graduating to Mercedes – and has revealed that Mercedes’ information from Friday’s running indicates his former team may yet have more to come on Saturday.

He said: “It’s good to be back, definitely missed it and coming to Zandvoort is always a lot of fun. The track’s really enjoyable to drive – max downforce, really fast, undulating – so from that side of things it was fun.

“I think it was a promising day, it was probably a day of two halves.

“We were looking really strong on the harder compounds. On the hard and the medium, [we were] looking at probably the top four. The soft didn’t quite go to plan but the race pace looks strong.

“A few surprises out there. The Williams [is] looking really strong, I think. We’re not sure they were running their qualifying mode based on the data we’ve seen, so they’ve got even more to come so interesting to see how they’ve achieved that.

“A bit of weather on the way as well, which would make things tricky, but ready for it.”

Mercedes remain without a victory since Russell triumphed in Brazil in the penultimate race of last season, with the 25-year-old claiming just a single podium finish so far in 2023.

Despite being classified a lowly 14th in FP2, Russell is optimistic about the team’s chances this weekend with the team bringing a range of upgrades to Zandvoort.

“They were feeling good,” Russell said of the latest revisions to the W14 car.

“At the end of the day, they feel as good as the lap times show and I think going from Spa, which is a low-downforce circuit to here, which is a high-downforce circuit, it’s always going to feel good around here at Zandvoort, so you can’t really do a direct comparison.

“It was the same case last year when we arrived at Zandvoort. I remember the first lap feeling really, really strong with the car feeling great – but I reckon that’s probably the same for every driver up and down the grid, so it’s a relative game.

“We’ve got a few improvements to make overnight, but generally it was definitely one of the better Fridays we’ve had.

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“I think just getting tyres in the right window [is the key]. I think we were on course to do the quickest lap time on the medium before the red flag came out when and then really the only change was the tyres, going to the softer tyre, tried a bit of a different outlap [and it] didn’t quite work out.

“So we know there’s pace in the car and I’ve got pace in myself and we just need to finetune that soft tyre to make sure we nail the sweetspot.”

Asked about his expectations for the weekend, Russell believes Mercedes can enjoy a competitive race in the Netherlands if they can manage to qualify close to the front.

He added: “I don’t really know what the expectations are because it is so close. A lot can happen. There’s definitely a few unknowns.

“But last year we qualified P6 and we were fighting for the victory, so we need to make sure we seal a good result, ideally in the top five.

“That will set us up really nicely for Sunday because we know we’ve got a faster race car now.”

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