Mercedes’ lack of performance in the Sprint at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix showed the team “clearly got something wrong,” according to George Russell.
Interlagos was expected to suit Mercedes after Russell’s double victory across a Sprint weekend last season, and despite only qualifying fourth on Saturday he quickly climbed to second on the opening lap. From there Russell went backwards and finished fourth, some 26s behind race-winner Max Verstappen and over 20s behind Lando Norris.
“Really unexpected,” Russell said. “We didn’t expect to be the fastest; we thought we’d be a couple of tenths behind Max, maybe similar pace to Lando, but clearly we got something wrong today. As always it’s down to tires — tires just dropped off. Story of everybody’s season, and we need to rectify it because that was a disappointing one.
“We know how sensitive the tires are to the conditions. If it’s going to be four or five degrees colder tomorrow, that might transform everything. Not all is lost yet. I guess everybody in the paddock wished they understood it, but it’s a bit of black magic.”
While Russell expected it to be tough to hold off cars that were within DRS range, he says that weakness should have made tire usage a strength for Mercedes.
“We’re the slowest on the straight at the moment, so we’re very vulnerable if anybody gets DRS behind us,” he said. “We knew that was going to be the case, but that wasn’t the reason for our lack of pace. If anything, being on probably a bit more downforce than everybody else, we were expecting to have less tire deg. We really need to understand what went wrong.”
Things were even worse for teammate Lewis Hamilton who slipped to seventh and a little over half a second clear of Daniel Ricciardo in ninth.
“It was a very tough race,” Hamilton said. “I think we got a good start, then balance… We tried to get right balance of the wing. Just a lot of understeer, snap oversteer and tires just dropped off. In the middle sector, huge understeer. I don’t know whether we got setup wrong… We probably got setup wrong but it is what it is.
“It’s not frustrating [that the car can’t be changed]. It’s frustrating that the car is the way it is.
“The last couple of races we’ve been excited that we’ve been progressing. It’s been really positive to see, and we come to another track and then you have the worst deg that you’ve had for ages. So it’s like you don’t know what to expect, but only a couple more races with this car then it’s gone so I’ll be happy … This year you’re just counting down the days, trying to enjoy every day.”