Russell: W15 is “inherently missing something in high speed” as he qualifies only P9 for F1 Japanese GP

Photo Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team
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The start of Mercedes’ 2024 season has been marked by correlation issues and performance varying between sessions throughout the weekend.

This trend continued at the Japanese Grand Prix qualifying session, where Mercedes did not deviate from their usual results.

With impressive performance throughout final practice, it was expected that both drivers would perform well and potentially lock out the second row. But unfortunately for them, those results didn’t materialize in the qualifying session in Suzuka.

Lewis Hamilton qualified seventh, with George Russell ending his session in ninth. 

Russell attributed this discrepancy to the inherent weakness of their W15 car in high-speed corners. With fuel at its minimum level in qualifying, the weaknesses became more exposed.

Teammate Hamilton missed out on P4 by less a tenth in a very tight battle behind the Red Bulls.

“Well, I think we predicted before the session to be about one-tenth between ourselves, Ferrari, McLaren and Aston.

“And, you know, when it comes to that one lap in qualifying, if you nail it or you don’t quite nail it, that can be the difference.

“These days we have six positions and I was on a really strong lap, two and a half tenths up by turn 11 and expecting to maybe finish four tenths ahead and made one small mistake and lost all the time.  And that was a bit of a shame. But we know the strengths and weaknesses of our car.

“The weakness is the high-speed corners. And when you get to qualify and you take the fuel out, the corners are becoming faster and faster and faster. So the pace naturally sort of goes away from us a bit in those corners.”

The weakness in high-speed corners has been exacerbated by the recent sequence of high-speed circuits on the calendar. The British driver noted: “And, you know, unfortunately, just with the nature of this calendar, we’ve had three circuits in a row that are all high-speed. You know, if we started the season at Bahrain, Baku and Singapore, you know, we’d probably be talking a very different picture for us.”

Photo Credit: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team

When asked about how the Brackley-based team is attempting to solve this everlasting issue, Russell emphasised that the team is already testing a few aerodynamic specifications, adding: “Yeah, I mean, we see it in the data, what’s happening. How to solve that is another question. So, we’ve had a few different specifications aerodynamically on the car in these first four races.

“Certainly, the one we’ve had in the last two weeks has been a little bit more consistent. But inherently in the car, we’re missing something in high speed. So, yeah, it’s definitely a bit of a shame because I think we could be much more competitive if we were there.

“And as we saw in Bahrain, qualifying P3 in the race, it was on course for a P2 before the engine problem. So, yeah, time will tell.

“We’re definitely doing more drastic test items at the moment to try and get on top of this high-speed performance.

“The car is correlating well in the low speed and the medium speed. But we’re a long way off in the high speed compared to what we’re seeing back at base. So we need to get on top of that.

“And as I said, when you get to qualifying and the fuel comes out, the speeds are only going higher, higher and higher.

“And that sort of runs away from us slightly. Whereas in the race, you’re probably going around the corners 30kph slower in high speed, which brings it back into more of a medium-speed corner rather than a high-speed corner.”

Looking ahead to the race, Mercedes is cautious about using the softer compound due to its rapid degradation. While some drivers, like Alonso, have saved a set for the race, Mercedes is unlikely to follow suit: “I’m pretty confident we won’t be using the soft tyre tomorrow, to be honest. And I think that’s clear with everybody. Only Fernando has saved the soft. I don’t know what Max did.

“But, yeah, it doesn’t look like a good race tyre. It’s very strong for one lap. But it’s clear that in qualifying, you can only do one lap. And the tyre is degrading on the qualifying lap from turn two. So, on this tarmac that is, I don’t know, 20 years old, it’s very challenging.”