George Russell says he has gone back to basics to recover from a mid-season dip in form and expects to be stronger in the Italian Grand Prix than over one lap after qualifying fourth.
Mercedes appeared to be on the back foot heading into qualifying, but Russell outqualified Lewis Hamilton for the second time in a row since the summer break. Hamilton will start from eighth and, after struggling to match his experienced teammate earlier this year, Russell says he’s found how to return to his previous level of performance.
“It’s sort of semi going back to basics,” Russell said. “[There’s been] a really good reset and refresh from my engineers. I’m pleased with my personal performance [after the break], back to my levels of the first six races. I lost my way a bit before the break.
“I think the tires are a huge factor…slightly going back to basics and not trying to reinvent the wheel with setups, and just accepting the pace of the car. P4 was the maximum potential today, but if I went in trying to do a lap for pole, trying to find three extra tenths, I’d have ended up in the gravel because three tenths extra is not possible.
“We know how important the tires are. Prime example: Q1, P13; Q3, P4, and the only thing changed is the tires.”
With both Ferrari drivers starting ahead of him, Russell believes Mercedes will have an advantage when it comes to race pace against the Scuderia on Sunday that could open up podium opportunities.
“Really happy with fourth,” he said. “We set the car up a bit more for the race because we weren’t expecting to be as quick as a team as we were, so a great place to start.
“I think we’ll have good race pace. The tire deg doesn’t look very high; it never is here in Monza and, with the skinny rear wings, overtaking isn’t that easy…even when you open the DRS you only gain one or two tenths.
“We need to be fast around the pit stops. I expect to have better deg than the Ferrari, so the chance is to be faster around the pit stops and do something slightly different.”