Russell reflects on ‘funny sport’ after qualifying woe

George Russell will start outside of the top 10 for the Azerbaijan GP after a poor qualifying

George Russell will start outside of the top 10 for the Azerbaijan GP after a poor qualifying

George Russell was left to reflect on how “funny” F1 can be after the hit-and-miss nature of his qualifying form in the space of two grand prix weekends.

Four weeks ago in Australia, Mercedes driver Russell delivered a superb performance around Melbourne’s Albert Park to start alongside reigning champion Max Verstappen in his Red Bull.

A month on following F1’s spring break, Russell failed to even make the top-10 shoot-out ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with the British driver starting 11th after finishing four-thousandths of a second behind team-mate Lewis Hamilton in Q2.

“We’re not fast enough this weekend, obviously,” said Russell. “I would have loved to have been in Q3.

“I was giving it everything, but I made a mistake on my last lap. I would have just crept into Q3, but I don’t think we would have been able to qualify any higher than P8.

“It’s a funny sport sometimes. You go from qualifying on the front row at the last race, to then being out in Q2, and Lewis just getting in with P10.

“Compared to the first three races we’ve been to, of all the tracks to have a bad qualifying, this is probably one of the ones you would choose to do it, so I see no reason why we can’t fight back on Sunday.

“We’ve also another chance tomorrow, but not an ideal Friday at all.”

Hamilton facing studying session

Mercedes’ performance was also in stark contrast to the previous sprint event last year in São Paulo where Russell won both the shortened race and the grand prix after laying the foundations earlier in the weekend.

Outlining the issues on this occasion, Russell said: “I wasn’t feeling great in practice, to be honest.

“I would have loved to have done a few more laps but we were sat in the garage quite a long time doing a few bits and bobs.

“So easy in hindsight to say should have, could have, would have, but we lacked a bit of learning.

“The last sprint race we had, we hit the ground running and we were flying every session. This one has been the opposite, and that’s the way it goes sometimes with these events.”

After scraping into Q3 ahead of Russell, Hamilton will at least start from a reasonable fifth position for the grand prix behind Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz in first and fourth respectively, sandwiching Red Bull pair Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

Highlighting the deficiencies of the W14 around the Baku Street Circuit, Hamilton said: “I knew the Red Bulls would be particularly quick. I didn’t know we would have such a huge deficit on the straights.

“But it’s a good indicator. We’re slower on the straights and we’re slower in the middle sector, so we’ve got a lot of work to do to rectify that in the car.

“It’s not the easiest one to drive. I’m happy to be on the third row and hopefully tomorrow we can have a bit of a better battle.”

That refers to the fact Saturday at a sprint weekend is standalone, with a second shortened qualifying session – known as the sprint shootout – preceding a 17-lap race.

As to whether he can improve in qualifying, Hamilton added: “Well, we can’t do any changes to the car. This is the base that we have so I might be able to eke a little more out if we can.

“I’ll have to do some studying but this is definitely a good position to start on Sunday.

“Naturally, it is not the position we want as a team. We exist to win. But everyone has that winning mindset and everyone’s working as hard as they can.

“We haven’t had an upgrade this weekend but we’re working towards one that will hopefully put us a little bit closer to the battle ahead.”

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