Saudi Arabian GP | Russell says Mercedes are finding “more performance” with new development path

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By Connor Bacon

Photo: Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team

George Russell has indicated that Mercedes is finding “more performance” with development than they were during the winter break.

After a difficult Bahrain Grand Prix for the German manufacturer, where Hamilton and Russell came home fifth and seventh respectively, over 50s behind winner Max Verstappen, the team had to temper expectations that it would be closer to Red Bull. They instead however found themselves not just further back from the reigning champions, but also slower than both Ferrari and Aston Martin.

Team principal Toto Wolff admitted the squad had made the wrong choice to stick with its current car concept and said they will explore alternative designs – with a meeting conducted on the Tuesday after the first race to decide what the key areas of development will be.

George Russell said that the team is making good improvements, which reinforces the fact that they ultimately took the wrong design direction with the W14.

“We’re already making good steps, good progress”, Russell revealed. “I think it’s sort of validated the incorrect direction we took over the winter.

“The fact that we’ve probably managed to find more performance in a week than we found in almost a month over the winter, that’s promising to a degree.

“But we’ve been in this position before. It’s never as straightforward as that and we just need to make sure that every single box is ticked.”

Wolff also claimed that the ameliorations are not just incremental but rather “really big steps.”

“We’re making really big steps at the moment with our R&D, with our understanding in the [wind] tunnel”, he said.

“And that is really big steps – because we just needed to have the confirmation in Bahrain that we got it wrong, [and] now we have that, that’s why I would never write anything off.”

It was a mixed bag of fortunes for the Mercedes drivers during Qualifying in Saudi Arabia. Hamilton struggled to eighth and set a lap four tenths slower than Russell who qualified fourth, which will become third because of Charles Leclerc’s ten place grid penalty.

And while it’s not where he or the team want to be, Russell was lifted by a performance that showed his brilliance after he pretty much maximised the performance of the car.

“As a driver, I’m doing all I can to help push the team forward and develop, work more than I’ve ever worked on a simulator and trying things,” said Russell.

“And when you come to a track and as a team deliver something more than you could have hoped or expected, that’s incredibly satisfying.

“One small part of the brain is frustrated that we’re not fighting for poles and victories but, as a driver, you’ve got to dim that out and just focus on maximising the performance, and I’m incredibly satisfied with what we achieved today.

“We’ve got a lot of good tools; we’ve got a good simulator back at base, we’ve got a good group of people.

“The work we did overnight, the work we did this morning, we got it in a really, really decent window.”

Given Mercedes’ gains overnight from free practice to qualifying, a podium is possible, especially considering Jeddah is a lower deg circuit. However, it will be an uphill battle with Aston Martin who showed solid long run pace on the medium tyre in FP2, and the fact that Verstappen is coming from P15 following a transmission issue which meant he couldn’t set a lap in Q2.

Therefore, Wolff moderated his expectations and noted how if the reigning champion had a shot at pole, the gap would be much bigger.

“I think that we’re always looking at the benchmark performance and that is [Max] Verstappen and [Sergio] Perez. And it was just too far away so that hasn’t changed”, he said.

“I think the gap if Max had finished qualifying would have been even bigger, we have seen that on the long runs, too.

“The trajectory is set now, it’s not anymore single qualifying laps or races, we’re now storming full steam ahead on changing things.”