Toto Wolff: George Russell could have won Australian GP for Mercedes

Oliver Harden
George Russell in the W14 cockpit. Bahrain, February 2023.

George Russell in the W14 cockpit. Bahrain, February 2023.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff is convinced that the team’s bold strategy could have launched George Russell to victory at the Australian Grand Prix.

Having started from the front row, Russell snatched the lead from Max Verstappen into Turn 1 and led a Mercedes one-two finish with team-mate Lewis Hamilton behind.

Following Alex Albon’s crash at Turn 6 on Lap 7, Russell dived into the pits to get his mandatory stop out of the way but was left disappointed when the race was suspended by a red flag, gifting his opponents a free tyre change.

He later retired with an engine problem as Hamilton secured the team’s first podium of the season with second place, having been unable to contain Verstappen.

Having claimed after the first qualifying session of the year that Mercedes had pursued the wrong car concept for 2023, Wolff was heartened by the performance in Australia and, speaking to British broadcaster Channel 4 after the race, felt Russell’s strategy could have taken him to the top step of the podium.

He said: “He was leading the race fair and square with a great start and we went on to a bold strategy with pitting early for the hard, and I think it could have probably won the race for him.

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“[We were] very much [at] the front and so it’s a shame first with the red flag and then with the engine damage.”

Despite the detrimental effect on Russell’s race, Wolff says he has no problem with red flags being used to improve the show – but questioned whether the measures taken by Race Control in Melbourne were strictly necessary.

“I think restarts are great, so throwing red flags [is a] perfect entertainment factor,” he explained.

“I think it’s important to understand when that is [necessary].

“It came as a surprise [in Australia with two incidents] which normally would have been the VSC [or] Safety Cars, but that’s OK.”

Hamilton was outqualified by a team-mate in Australia for the first time since 2010 on Saturday, with the seven-time World Champion yet to start in front of Russell on the grid in 2023.

But Wolff believes that Hamilton’s strong performance on race day shows the 38-year-old still comes alive when handed a competitive car.

He said: “It’s coming towards us. I think Lewis drove brilliantly and you can see that once he has a car underneath him that has pace he’s just unbelievable. We’ve seen that today.

“I don’t think that we have a car that is able to race there on merit so we’ve just got to build on that.”