George Russell asserts Mercedes must understand the “really unexpected” pace drop the team experienced during Saturday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix Sprint race.
Both Mercedes drivers climbed the order in the early stages of the 24-lap encounter, with Russell beating Sergio Perez off the line before Lewis Hamilton capitalised to displace the Red Bull driver further with a bold move around the outside at Turn 4.
Russell then pounced on a cautious Lando Norris during the first lap to complete an opportunistic dive down the inside of the McLaren into Turn 11, rising to second.
“Yeah, it was a good start. Sort of had that Turn 10 lined up as an overtaking opportunity,” Russell revealed.
“We were fast in Turn 8/9 and I thought that was my chance, so glad to make that stick. Just a shame we went backwards.”
Russell was unable to maintain pace with Max Verstappen out front in the opening stages, enabling Norris to regain the place using the aid of DRS into Turn 1 on Lap 4.
Meanwhile, Perez utilised the speed of the Red Bull to overhaul the Mercedes duo by Lap 8, while Hamilton was also passed late on by Charles Leclerc and Yuki Tsunoda.
Russell concedes that the Brackley squad’s uncompetitiveness emerged as a complete surprise, having initially forecast that it would be in a battle with Norris’ McLaren.
“Yeah. Really unexpected. We didn’t expect to be the fastest, we thought we’d be a couple of tenths behind Max, maybe similar pace to Lando,” Russell admitted.
“But clearly we got something wrong today. As always it’s down to tyres. Tyres just dropped off. Story of everybody’s season. And we need to rectify it because that was a disappointing one.”
While Mercedes were exposed down the straights when other cars were within DRS range, Russell contends that wasn’t the primary reason for the team’s troubles.
“We’re the slowest on the straight at the moment so we’re very vulnerable if anybody gets DRS behind us. We knew that was going to be the case, but that wasn’t the reason for our lack of pace,” he discussed.
“If anything, being on probably a bit more downforce than everybody else, we were expecting to have less tyre deg. We really need to understand what went wrong.”
Despite Mercedes being locked into its current set-up choice under parc ferme conditions, Russell believes the delicate nature of the Pirelli tyres ensures a change in track temperature on Sunday could have an overriding impact on the pecking order.
“Yeah, that’s it, but we know how sensitive the tyres are to the conditions,” he acknowledged. “If it’s going to be four or five degrees colder tomorrow, that might transform everything.
“Not all is lost yet. I guess everybody in the paddock wished they understood it, but it’s a bit of black magic.”
Russell will line up eighth for Sunday’s grand prix after the stewards handed him a two-place grid drop for impeding Pierre Gasly in the pitlane during Friday’s qualifying.
Ahead of the weekend, the FIA announced a new technical directive to prevent such instances of blocking from occurring, but Russell thinks his penalty was “harsh”.
“It was a bit frustrating when the stewards said to me that I was basically unfortunate that Pierre accelerated and came up right behind me and that I did nothing differently to any of the other drivers who stayed toward the middle of the track,” he lamented.
“It’s difficult with all of the screws and bolts around the track, I didn’t really want to be right on the left-hand side. I was just quite surprised how black and white they took it.
“We’re adding a lot of new rules, and every time we add a new rule it has an unforeseen consequence. I appreciate why they’re doing it, but definitely felt it was a bit harsh considering it was the very first time that rule was implemented. But we’ve just got to suck it up and move on.”