George makes valiant effort in one-stop Japanese Grand Prix strategy
George aimed to bounce back after last-lap heartbreak at the Singapore Grand Prix, as he headed to Suzuka, a circuit that saw him top the times on Friday and score points on Sunday in 2022.
Consistent top tens for George in Practice
The Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One® Team opted not to run Softs in FP1, so both George and Lewis Hamilton lay outside the top ten, the former occupying P13.
Friday’s second practice session saw much improved pace for George, who set the fifth-fastest time behind Max Verstappen, both Ferrari cars and Lando Norris. The third and final session saw George eighth on the timesheets.
George lines up eighth on the grid for the Japanese Grand Prix
The first part of qualifying saw George finish in ninth, before quickly following it up with P8 in Q2.
In Q3, along with Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso, Russell opted to circulate in the middle section of the session to gain the advantage of a clear track. Once the final runs were completed Russell was eighth.
High hopes for a one-stop strategy
Starting from eighth on the grid, George conceded a place to the fast-starting Alonso at Turn 1 before an early Safety Car halted proceedings. During that time, a pit stop for Sergio Perez brought George back to his starting position.
Having maintained eighth place at the restart, George dove down the inside of the sister Mercedes at the chicane, continuing round the outside of its second apex to take the place onto the start/finish straight. Before George had the opportunity to stamp his authority on the position, Hamilton had made his way back past around the outside of Turn 1. The battle continued 10 laps later as the pair went side-by-side into Spoon, but once again Hamilton emerged ahead.
With the rest of the front runners pitting, it became evident that George was going against the grain and had switched to a one-stop strategy. By Lap 19, he was at the front of the field. His lead was short-lived however, as Max Verstappen came past on fresh Medium tyres at Spoon.
On Lap 25, George finally pitted for fresh Hard tyres and re-joined ninth. On his outlap, he utilised the enhanced grip to move past Alonso.
Lap 35 would signal the start of the second round of stops for the front runners and George was once again elevated to the front of the field, running in second as the McLarens, Ferraris and Hamilton pitted leaving only Verstappen ahead.
With fresh tyres, a resurgent Norris made his way past George as they made their way down the start/finish straight on Lap 38. Despite a valiant defence, he then succumbed to the other McLaren of Piastri three laps later.
As his tyres began to wane, his rivals came at him thick and fast. Charles Leclerc got past – after attempting overtakes for several laps – on Lap 45. With mounting pressure from Hamilton and Sainz behind, George moved aside for his Mercedes stablemate at Turn 1 on Lap 49, but then had to admit defeat a lap later at the same corner.
Ultimately, George finished seventh, a position above his grid slot, but playing the team game helped Hamilton to stay ahead of Sainz for fifth at the finish.
George Russell, Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One® Team driver:
We will take the positives from today. The one-stop strategy didn’t seem to be the optimal one at the start of the day, but we made it work better than expected. Ultimately though, we just didn’t have the pace this weekend to challenge those ahead. I’m glad we tried something different, but the end result was a fair representation of where our speed was. I think we achieved the maximum we could today. There was plenty of hard but fair racing today. In the beginning, I felt like I had good pace so was trying to make progress. In the closing stages, we were pushing but ultimately, I don’t think anything we could have done would have changed the result. That’s all good and it’s all part of motorsport. It’s been a challenging weekend for us here at Suzuka, overall. We will try to understand why that was and come back stronger for the next race in Qatar.