George Russell believes he could have been involved in the fight for the podium at the Belgian Grand Prix if he hadn’t been compromised by an incident on the opening lap.
The Brit was striving to recover lost ground after only qualifying eighth, but his early attempt to make up places was thwarted when Oscar Piastri and Carlos Sainz made contact at the La Source hairpin.
The clash saw both drivers incur damage, with Piastri’s wounded McLaren on the approach to Eau Rouge catching out Russell, who ended Lap 1 down in 11th place.
Although Russell would eventually recover to sixth, he reckons that a cleaner first lap would have put him in contention for a podium place with his team-mate, who fell short in pursuing Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
“Yes, it was just very unfortunate in the beginning, when Oscar had his failure, I went to the left, sort of misjudged that he can turn, I got boxed in and lost four or five positions at the start,” he bemoaned.
“So, that kind of dictated my race. If it wasn’t for that would have been P5. I would have liked to think I would have been there with Lewis [Hamilton] and Charles fighting for the podium.”
Having gone for the alternative strategy by starting on the Medium tyre, Russell managed to make a one-stop strategy work, switching to the Softs on Lap 22.
But a mid-race shower saw many drivers pit onto the Soft compound and utilise the grippier rubber as the conditions deteriorated – most notably Lando Norris – leaving Russell to rue the decision not to make his solitary stop earlier.
“I mean, it was definitely tricky when the rain started coming down,” he addressed.
“Again, if we knew that was going to be, how much rain there was going to be, we would have pitted onto the Soft, and that’s when you would have had the biggest difference in those challenging conditions.
“But yeah, all in all, it was a good race. Both the races were competitive, opening that gap to P3 in the championship. But, you know, we’re still focused on Red Bull and trying to close that gap.”
Asked if he was happy about the decisions taken on the pit wall, Russell responded: “Yes, No, no, I was happy. I was happy.
“I think for a one-stop around here was pretty, pretty competitive stint. The last stint I felt really strong on the Soft tyre.
“So, as I said, it’s just been a really challenging weekend. Glad it’s over. A bit of a reset and go again.”
Russell’s difficult weekend continued a recent trend that has seen him fail to extract the most out of the Mercedes W14 package compared with team-mate Hamilton.
The Mercedes driver, however, believes the weekend at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit consolidated his feeling that wrongful set-up directions have been the primary reason behind his lacklustre form of late.
“I think this weekend’s validated probably that the direction we’ve taken with the setup in recent races hasn’t been the right one,” he revealed.
“We suffered with a huge amount of bouncing today. A number of teams did, maybe not as severe as we did, still, obviously a bit of a shame to see that as a sport at the pinnacle of motorsport the majority of teams are still struggling with bouncing. You know, I hope something can be solved in that regard in the future.”
With Hamilton unable to overhaul Leclerc for the final podium spot, Russell admits he was stunned by Ferrari’s race pace as the Italian marque embarked upon a return to form.
But Russell remains confident that Mercedes, who sit 51 points clear of Aston Martin in the standings, head into the summer break in a healthy position.
“Yes, I think Charles was maybe a surprise for us,” he confessed. “I don’t think we anticipated them being so quick.
“But, as I said, we’re in a good place in the teams’ championship. That looks pretty secure for now. But we’re just focused on trying to… we want to win a race this year.”