George Russell delivered a mighty lap to claim fourth spot on the timing screens at the end of qualifying for the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the Mercedes driver saving face for his team while his illustrious teammate Lewis Hamilton struggled.
P4 becomes P3 on the Jeddah grid for Russell on Sunday as second-best Charles Leclerc drops ten places due to PU-related penalties. Prior to qualifying few would have placed a Black Arrow in the top six, let alone third which the Briton was chuffed to take.
Russell said after the session: “Really happy to be honest. Obviously, we are lacking a bit of overall downforce, but more than we could have hoped for given all the circumstances.
“We will have to wait and see, it is going to be an interesting race. We think we probably have a better race car than Qualy car, so happy to line up P3.”
As for Max Verstappen’s driveshaft issue, which denied Red Bull’s pace setter what was a sure top spot, Russell said: “I am sure we will do our best, but when they have got a car that quick, you can kind of do whatever you want. You saw what Max did from 15th last year in Spa and he has got a faster race car this year.
Russell: Credit to Red Bull, they have done an exceptional job
He added in the Mercedes qualifying report: “We have exceeded the potential and our own expectations to be ahead of an Aston Martin and a Ferrari. It is a solid job; we put in a lot of work overnight.
“The team back at Brackley were working hard in the simulator and we did a lot of work trackside this morning to try and get more out of the package. We know we are not in the fight for pole just yet, but you have to maximise what you’ve got, and we certainly did that.
“We have a fight on our hands, most likely with the Aston Martins and the Ferraris. We will be pushing hard to get on the podium and seeing what we can do. This Team has higher standards and expectations for themselves than just finishing in the top three, but we will be giving everything we’ve got to be standing there on Sunday,” concluded Russell.
In the sister car, Hamilton was nearly four-tenths down on his teammate when it mattered in Q3, the F1 record-holding 103-time pole position winner good for eighth on the night; P7 on the grid for the race.
He reported: “I struggled a little bit today, but we just need to keep trying. No matter what changes we’ve been making, we’ve been struggling to extract the speed, and I just don’t feel properly connected to the car at the moment.”
Hamilton: We just need to keep pushing
“That is something we will work on to improve the confidence in the next races. George did a great job today though and he wasn’t that far off some of the cars at the front, so we just need to keep pushing. It wasn’t the greatest of days but there are improvements for the Team,” insisted Hamilton.
Mercedes trackside boss Andrew Shovlin summed up Merc’s Saturday: “It’s been a difficult weekend to get the car in the right place and I don’t think George could have got any more out of it with his laps in the final session.
“We’ve benefited from Max’s issues and Charles’ penalty to end up third on the grid, but George still had to get ahead of a number of key cars that were all pretty quick.
“Lewis had a tough time through the sessions, struggling with the balance and grip in the first sector. He had a very solid morning so it’s a bit of a surprise but hopefully, we’ll see strong [race] pace. The race here normally has a few incidents so how well you do is often a function of whether they fall at the right times.
“Only a few places separate our cars so it gives us an opportunity to split them on strategies so we can cover the bases. Hopefully, we’ll be a bit kinder on the tyres than we were in Bahrain; we’ve tried to work on the setup to achieve that and we’ll find out Sunday if we’ve made progress,” added Shovlin.
Russell finished fifth at the same race last year, while Hamilton was only good for tenth that Sunday after the pair had qualified sixth and 16th respectively.
Reward for all the hard work overnight. 👏 @GeorgeRussell63 pic.twitter.com/OquaMWgDrc
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) March 18, 2023