George Russell has warned that he and his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, have no chance of fighting for the Formula One title unless Mercedes drastically improves, speculating it could take up to eight races for them to be competitive at the front of the grid.
Russell and Hamilton finished fifth and 10th respectively at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Sunday, which was won by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc finishing second. Mercedes were almost one second a lap off the pace of the leaders during parts of the race, with Hamilton, the seven-time champion, reduced to scrapping for a point with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll.
Russell, in his debut season with Mercedes, believes their major problem – the downforce stalling on a straight known as porpoising – is responsible for 99% of the lack of pace and that the car’s potential cannot be unlocked until that is solved.
“We are definitely not out of it but if we don’t manage to find some improvements there is no way we will be fighting for this championship,” said the 24-year-old. “We are not giving up. Even if we continue like this for the next five, six, seven or eight races we are still going to be in touching distance and there is no reason we can’t overturn it. We need to see how things look by the time we get halfway through the season. Everything can change.
“I don’t see any reason why we will make any strides forward. We are the third-fastest team at the moment and closer to the fourth than we are to second, so it’s going to be more of the same in the coming races.”
Russell trails Leclerc, the championship leader, by 23 points after two races of the season, with Hamilton 29 behind and Mercedes are 40 points adrift of Ferrari in the team standings. This is largely uncharted territory for the outfit, who have won the past eight constructors’ championships and become used to enjoying a level of dominance at the front of the grid. The team principal, Toto Wolff, said their lack of performance is a sobering experience.
“We had the luxury of being in the middle of those fun games for the past eight years and it is extremely painful not to be part of it,” he said. “We’re not going to rest until we are back in the mix. It’s no fun at all, it’s an exercise in humility, and it’s going to make us stronger in the end, even though it’s not funny right now.”
Australia hosts the next race, at Melbourne’s Grand Prix Circuit on 10 April.