George Russell says Mercedes’ first front row lockout of 2022 is “a pretty big milestone” after winning the sprint at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
Mercedes has had one pole position from a normal qualifying session courtesy of Russell in Hungary, but will have both cars on the front row at Interlagos as a grid penalty for Carlos Sainz promotes Lewis Hamilton to second after he finished third in the sprint. The year’s first sprint event at Imola saw Mercedes struggle, but at the penultimate round Russell says the progress is something to be proud of.
“I think it’s a pretty big milestone for the whole team,” he explained. “When we look back at where we were at the very first sprint of the year (P11 and P14)… And here we are going to be lining up one-two tomorrow. I think it’s really exciting.
“I’m so proud of the whole team, to keep on delivering with the car. But it’s going to be interesting tomorrow. Obviously Max is the main man at the moment and those medium tires just didn’t seem to work.”
Verstappen overtook pole-sitter Kevin Magnussen early on but struggled on mediums while Russell — on soft tires — kept the pressure on for a number of laps. After close battling, Russell took the lead into Turn 4 and went on to win by 4s and admits he was weighing up how aggressive to be.
“I think we were confident that we could finish second, and we thought Max would probably have quite an easy run to be honest,” the Briton said. “We knew that if we weren’t ahead of him at Turn 1, it was going to be very difficult to stay ahead of him. I started attacking in the early laps, and I thought once he gets some temperature in his tires, he’ll be away.
“It was a little bit tricky. You had to balance the risk and reward, because obviously there’s only one extra point… As much as I wanted to win this race today it’s only one extra point and obviously you’re setting yourself up for tomorrow, so you had to be a little bit careful. Max has got nothing to lose, really, so he was going to be driving aggressively. But definitely it was pleasing to get the move done in the end.”
Starting with both cars on the front row provides Mercedes with a strong chance of winning its first race of the season and Russell says he’s willing to split strategies with Hamilton to increase that potential.
“It really goes to show the work we’ve done and I think we’re definitely going to be very excited for tomorrow, and obviously having Lewis and I one-two on the grid is going to give us some options of the strategy,” he said. “And I think we’re going to have to work together to do something different for one of us to try and get the victory for the team tomorrow.”
Russell says there “definitely won’t be any team orders” between the Mercedes drivers, and Hamilton himself insists the overriding priority is a team victory.
“We’ll work together as a team tomorrow,” Hamilton said. “And this is about the team. We’ve got to get this result for the team. I think it’d be incredibly special. And obviously we’re chasing the red guys, so it could be good.
“I think I’ll just say that getting a one-two either way, I’m going to be a happy person, just because of how hard everybody’s worked. But of course, George has done an amazing job this year, and he’ll be pushing for that win – but we’ll drive carefully and clean. We’ve just always got to have, at the core of it — at the front of our mind — it’s the team; getting the result for the team. But of course, individually, we’ll do our best to try and get the best result.”