The 2023 season started promisingly for George Russell competing for Mercedes W14. However, midway through, he experienced a string of underwhelming qualifying results, outshining team member, Lewis Hamilton, only once since the Monaco race. This poor form hampered his performance during the main events on Sundays.
Throughout the buildup to the summer recess, Russell admitted that “things weren’t clicking” for him on the Mercedes W14. As racing action resumed in Zandvoort, he made up for the previous disappointments by coming third in the qualifiers right behind leading drivers, Max Verstappen and Lando Norris. Contrarily, Hamilton was the one struggling to make a mark on Saturday’s session.
During the Monza race weekend, Russell confessed that he had had to reevaluate his race settings strategy together with his primary engineering team. He confessed to “overreaching” and attempting to “reinvent the wheel”. He explained, “I probably lost my way slightly in the last couple of races before the break.”
Russell further pointed out that his ambition resulted in compromised performance. He stated, “This year [I was] overreaching at times, which has led to a bit of a drop in performance.” He conceded that the direction of their vehicle set-up was misplaced in the recent races, impacting negatively on his confidence and qualifying performances, with too much importance being assigned to race day.
He noted his satisfaction after Zandvoort, stating, “But that’s why I was so happy with Zandvoort, because we changed the approach, put full focus on qualifying and on regaining my confidence. And after five laps back in the car, I felt like I got my mojo back.”
F1 Initiative inquired Russel about how challenging it was to get the current generation ground-effect cars’ set-up right. Russel responded amusingly that exceeding the car’s potential in a race weekend could result in what he called an over-baked or “too many cherries on a cake” situation.
He advised that “we can’t reinvent the wheel right here on this race weekend”. The focus should be more on tweaking the available package and trying to achieve the maximum potential and not excessively loading it. This, according to Russell, is smarter work.
The sporting challenge lies in getting the right balance between ride heights while maintaining a steady aerodynamic load through different types of corners, resulting in firmer, more challenging-to-drive cars. “I think with these generations of cars, you always are looking for that best trade-off ,” Russell noted, pointing out that most cars achieve maximum downforce when closest to the ground.
Russell revealed this setup that requires aggressive stiffness, negatively impacts the vehicle’s compliance and ride. He confessed, “We’ve just been chasing one direction, thinking that would pay off and it hasn’t.” He, however, was careful not to assure total problem resolution but instead remarked, “there are no guarantees that we’ve solved it. But I think we’ve got a clearer idea how to react.” He concluded optimistically that, “We’ve not reinvented the wheel, but I feel like we’re on the right path.”