Mercedes admit that George Russell’s defence against Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in Spain was part skill, part luck.
The Spanish Grand Prix was a key test for the Mercedes W13 in its current configuration, the team having struggled to control its bouncing habit in the opening rounds, which had led to performance issues.
But at a race where Mercedes could directly compare their ‘zero-pod’ approach to their more conventional sidepods used in Barcelona in pre-season, the W13 delivered, Mercedes moving much closer to the battle at the front.
Although Ferrari and Red Bull do maintain a pace advantage, Russell was very much in the mix at the Spanish Grand Prix, even leading the race at one stage when Charles Leclerc retired from the lead due to a power unit failure.
At that stage Russell had the very close attention of Verstappen, who was looking to undo the damage of an earlier spin suffered while running P2.
Verstappen though was struggling with DRS, which was activating correctly at times, but at others failing to open.
It meant then that the undercut was the only way for Verstappen to clear Russell, the Dutchman ultimately going on to claim victory and move to the top of the Drivers’ Championship, while Russell finished P3.
Part of Russell’s resilient defence, according to Mercedes’ motorsport strategy director James Vowles, came down to driver skill, Russell at one stage noted by the stewards as he and Verstappen battled through Turn 4, Russell maintaining position, though no investigation followed.
But, Vowles said it can not be overlooked that ‘lady luck’ gave Russell a helping hand in the form of Verstappen’s faulty DRS.
Asked to explain how Russell managed to fend off Verstappen for so many laps, in Mercedes’ debrief video, Vowles said: “George did an incredible job at defending.
“He really was very, very good both under braking but also, he really just positioned the car where it needed to be. He did that relative to Perez for quite a few laps and then the Red Bulls inverted the cars and put Verstappen behind, but Verstappen also had a problem.
“It may not have been too evident on television but his DRS was opening absolutely fine on the run down to Turn 10, but was intermittent in opening on the start/finish straight and the overtaking is all there. It is on the start/finish straight in Barcelona.
“There were some laps where you saw Verstappen could nearly come alongside and George had to take quite a defensive line into turn one, two, three and did so fantastically well.
“There were other laps where Verstappen wasn’t as close and that’s where the DRS wasn’t opening. So, to answer the question: part of it is just an incredible amount of racing skill that George has inherently and the second part of it is a little bit of lady luck on our side when Red Bull didn’t have a working DRS for a number of those laps.”
Russell is P4 in the Drivers’ Championship heading into the Monaco Grand Prix, with 74 points on the board after six rounds.
Torquing Point: Mercedes show signs of life in Spain - Spanish GP Conclusion
Mercedes came to Spain with new upgrades, hoping to help sort the car out. And what we saw was a vastly improved team, one that might now be able to push on and capitalise on Red Bull and Ferrari's reliability issues.