George Russell cut a frustrated figure after Saturday’s qualifying session ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Mercedes struggled to compete with Ferrari and Red Bull again and face another midfield battle in Sunday’s race, with Lewis Hamilton also lamenting the W13’s bouncing.
Ferrari and Red Bull’s duos occupy the front two rows on the grid for the GP in Baku, as Russell starts in P5 and Hamilton in P7, behind AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly. And it seems fifth will be as high as Mercedes can hope for if the two leading teams avoid issues.
After qualifying, Russell played down the Silver Arrows’ hopes of challenging Ferrari and Red Bull in Baku. The 24-year-old suggested the ‘slowest car on the grid’ was closer to Mercedes than they were to the constructors battling at the top of the standings.
He told Sky Sports: “We’re not going to get anything more on merit. The slowest car on the grid is closer to us than we are to Ferrari and Red Bull, to put it in perspective. So other than a late safety car and we’re strategically on the right tyres at the right time, or there are issues ahead, being P5 would be the maximum.
“There’s a lot of drivers and teams who are really fast this weekend, and that midfield looks extremely tight between the McLarens, Fernando [Alonso], [Pierre] Gasly… He’s got history around this track and seems very quick here. So I don’t know. We want more, [and] we’re fighting for more. We’re not just going to settle for P5 and P6 or P7. But you can’t just give away the points doing something stupid.”
Hamilton was equally frustrated and admitted that Mercedes were ‘very slow on the straights’ due to extreme porpoising. The seven-time world champion’s car seems to be suffering worse than Russell’s, but he stressed that both drivers were ready to ‘give it everything’ on Sunday.
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“There are lots to look forward to,” Hamilton explained. “It’s a tricky and chaotic race; there are lots that can happen. We’re in the top 10, and it was a really difficult qualifying session because we’re constantly pushing. We have a very, very small window with the car. Everything we try doesn’t give us what we want. We’re making lots of changes, but we always come out with the same conclusion, which is most often bouncing, which loses us a lot of performance.
“And then all the performance is when you get the car low. We just say we’ll take a beating with our backs and necks and get the car as low as possible to get performance. I went lower, and it’s bouncing a little bit more than the other car. But we’re still there; we’re just very slow on the straights. It might be a struggle tomorrow in the race, but we’re going to give it everything, and I hope maybe we’ll have a better race pace. Who knows?”