George Russell says his surprise improvement of seven places between the two qualifying sessions in Azerbaijan has provided Mercedes “something to learn” from for the future.
The Brit’s run of out-qualifying Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton at every round in 2023 ended on Friday evening in Baku as the seven-time champion pipped Russell to a place in Q3 by only 0.004s.
However, in the inaugural running of the Sprint Shootout this morning Russell comfortably navigated his way into the final segment and eclipsed both Hamilton and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz to wound up fourth.
Russell concedes that his drastic overnight elevation up the order left him feeling indifferent about how things could have turned out yesterday.
“Yeah, mixed feelings,” he acknowledged. “Firstly very happy with the job in qualifying, I think P4 is exceeding our expectations.
“But when I got back into the pitlane I was like ‘bugger’, I still made that mistake yesterday and showed what was probably possible, but you can’t always be on your A-game, and it was so close yesterday.”
With only a solitary hour of practice being held ahead of qualifying for Sunday’s grand prix, Russell also hints that the revised sprint format potentially hampers Mercedes more than other teams.
The huge strides he was able to make in an unchanged car left the ex-Williams driver believing it is something that Mercedes can take lessons from.
“It’s an interesting one, we always seem to get better as qualifying progresses, we always sort of come into our own come Q3 and as the weekend progresses, so there’s something to learn there.”
However, Russell is confident that the German outfit’s engineering division has already amassed some ideas as to the root cause of its fluctuating pace conundrum.
“We don’t purposely make the car in that way that it keeps seemingly getting better,” he remarked.
“We’ve got some ideas why that may be, but I’m pleased that we sort of turned it around today, or probably I improved my driving because obviously, the car stayed the same as yesterday. So we’ll just go out and try and maximise the weekend.
Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton produced a sensational final run in the main qualifying hour on Friday to claim fifth on the grid for Sunday’s 51-lap race.
But the 103-time race winner was left ruing struggles with the rear of his W14 and the absence of a tow on his last run in today’s qualifying that resigned him to seventh.
“The sessions were going really well actually; Q1 and Q2 were going well,” he underlined.
“It was just my last lap I struggled with the rear end in the last lap, and I didn’t get a tow at the end, the Red Bulls pulled too far ahead.
“Bit unfortunate but I gave it everything and that’s all you can ask for.”
While Russell has handed an early positive review of the altered sprint format with the addition of a second qualifying session, he hopes the flat-out Saturday spectacle doesn’t detract from Sunday’s race.
“Obviously I was a bit annoyed with everything [yesterday], but I think having action every single day is quite exciting,” he said.
“I hope it doesn’t dilute the excitement for a Sunday for the fans… for us its obviously fun as your driving flat out more often, but I think we need to listen to what the people at home think and ultimately we’re here to put on a show for them.”