This past weekend, at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix, George Russell maintained his record of being the only driver to finish every race in the top 5 this season. On this occasion, his P5 owed a lot of luck to a Safety Car on lap 40. However, having shown so much pace on Friday, the British racer deserved some good fortune. Nevertheless, having looked to be in the running for pole - before FP3 - Russell described Sunday’s result as one which gave him mixed feelings.
P5 and P6 for Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team at the Miami Grand Prix was surely the best they could hope for barring any misfortune to a Scuderia Ferrari or Red Bull Racing driver. Russell finished the Miami Grand Prix in P5, with his illustrious seven-time F1 Drivers’ World Champion teammate, Lewis Hamilton in P6. A feat all the more impressive as George Russell started the race in P12. Russell’s approach was to run the hard tyre as long as possible and hope to profit from a Safety Car later in the Grand Prix. Having seen a red flag in free practice, the belief of further interruptions arriving was a valid one.
This strategy, differed to that of Lewis Hamilton as the British racer started on the medium tyre. For Hamilton, he was struggling from the start and never had the chance to fully maximise his strategy after losing places following contact with Fernando Alonso.
George Russell, meanwhile, had a nightmare opening as he lost track position fast. He explained to select press, which included Motorlat, that in his eyes the blame fell on the tarmac rather than anything else:
“Those opening laps were really tough, I got completely swallowed up on lap one and I just knew I needed to stay out of trouble and then it was really difficult to race around this track. I don't know what on earth they've done with the tarmac but it's offline it's awful I almost crashed coming into the pit lane. We requested to get the pit entry blend line removed because we knew that with all the marbles, having to go around the outside the corner it's gonna cause a crash so that was a shame not to see that implemented and it's strange cos every other new tarmac on these other tracks you know with Jeddah with Melbourne…they generally offer a really high grip really good racing on and offline but here something’s gone a bit wrong.”
George Russell would continue to critique the tarmac, more than likely as a result of being a Director of the GPDA (Grand Prix Drivers’ Association):
“They need to do something. One, it’s a safety issue and secondly it just does not offer good racing. You can't go side by side with the car around the corner it's zero grip offline so it's kind of like driving in the wet when there's one dry line. When you put one on the slicks in the wet there's one dry line so I mean it's drivable, but it depends on if you wanna offer good racing and something good for the drivers.”
A new approach was needed having lost position and time to the pack. George Russell made the call to stay out and hope for a safety car (or even a red flag) which would considerably reduce the time lost from a pitstop. Russell played his part and kept a good pace. Finally, on lap 40 the Safety Car he had desperately hoped for arrived.
Speaking to the select media, George Russell confessed:
“That was a bit fortunate, you sound like a bit of a genius when things like that happen. But that's the case, when you're on an offset strategy and we have P7 seven covered there's no point to pit, you might as well just stay out there and hope for something like that to happen and we got a bit lucky today. But we still didn't show the pace that we showed on Friday we showed much more pace than we showed yesterday but still a long way from where we were on Friday. We need to understand why that is.”
What didn’t need much understanding was why the fortuitous Safety Car had been deployed.
The moment came on lap 40 (after an initial Virtual Safety Car) following the retirement of Lando Norris. The stricken McLaren was as a result of Norris making contact with an unaware (and poorly placed on track) Pierre Gasly. George Russell didn’t need asking twice and was able to make his one pitstop of the race from P5, to return on track in P7. Not only this but his fresh set of rubber was more than a match for his teammate Lewis Hamilton who despite being on track in front of him – would not remain there for long.
Even though George Russell was in a superior position, he still made hard work of it.
Having been judged to have made the pass on his teammate off track, George Russell was instructed to let Lewis Hamilton (now on 20 lap-old tyres), move back in front of him.
“When they told me we had to swap position back, it was a little bit frustrating because I was catching the guys ahead at one point.” Russell remarked.
This was merely delaying the inevitable though as Russell passed Hamilton shortly after and never looked back. Another top 5 finish and reason to hope that better is yet to come – although everyone accepts that it won’t happen overnight.
“We've known all along there is a fast racing car there.” Russell stated in his post-race comments. “Friday was a complete outline we don't really understand why. Obviously, Lewis did a better job than I yesterday and qualified P6 but [if judged as equal fuel and power] his fastest laps were on Friday. Whereas every other driver improved well over one second and I think my race pace was two tenths slower than Leclerc on Friday and today is back to half second to a second so I don't know.”
More questions than answers remain in the Mercedes ranks but George Russell is quickly turning into the morale booster of the team. Calm, calculated, talented and able to make his own luck on track – the perfect recipe of any promising Formula One talent. Now, he just needs to be given a race winning car to demonstrate this talent even further on track, either this year – or the next!