After spending the winter hoping it would be able to close the gap to Red Bull, Mercedes instead found itself further adrift in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, slipping to being the fourth-quickest team behind Red Bull, Ferrari and Aston Martin.
But, while Russell still qualified behind a car from each of those teams in Jeddah, setting the fourth-fastest time six tenths off polesitter Sergio Perez, the Briton was buoyed by a much-improved performance from his W14 after doing plenty of experimental set-up testing on Friday, in conjunction with overnight work back at home in Brackley.
“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,” Russell said.
“And when you come to a track and as a team deliver something more than you could have hoped and 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. And I think the work we did overnight, the work we did this morning, we got it in a really, really decent window.”
George Russell, Mercedes-AMG
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Earlier this week Mercedes decided to change course on its development path after team boss Toto Wolff said the team realised it was wrong to stick to its 2022 concept.
According to Russell, Mercedes’ first major upgrade that will reflect its new course is still around four races away, but he feels it’s already promising to find “more performance in a week than we found in almost a month”.
“I think it’s probably four or so races before we can see a bit of a difference,” he explained. “We’re already making good steps, good progress and 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.”
Russell’s fourth place in qualifying, which will translate to third on the grid after Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc’s grid penalty, is contrasted by a more difficult session for team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who was eight-fastest after “struggling to extract performance out of the car”.
- Hamilton doesn’t “feel connected” to Mercedes W14 F1 car
- Alonso “not in a position” to beat Red Bull in Saudi Arabian F1 GP
- Red Bull F1 still on “another planet”, says Leclerc