George Russell says he doesn’t deserve to be starting the Italian Grand Prix from the front row of the grid despite grid penalties promoting him.
Mercedes has struggled compared to Ferrari and Red Bull at Monza and was fifth and sixth in qualifying, with Lewis Hamilton leading his teammate. However, grid penalties for four of the top five mean Russell will start from second place alongside Charles Leclerc, a position he feels his side of the garage didn’t earn.
“We don’t deserve to be starting P2 after today’s performance,” Russell said. “It was…a frustrating session because we can’t seem to get the car in that sweet spot. FP1, the car felt great; in FP2, FP3 substantially worse. In Q1, the car felt great, a few tenths off Ferrari. Q2 was worse; Q3 was worse. But ultimately that’s been a theme this season. Lining up P2, we’ll have a faster race car, probably not fast enough to battle with [Max Verstappen], potentially Charles.”
Despite Verstappen taking a grid penalty, Russell believes there is no way anyone else can compete with the championship leader if he isn’t caught up in any incidents.
“I think you’d be pretty stupid to bet against it. He just needs to keep his nose clean in the first two laps and he will cruise to victory. We will try to finish ahead of Charles. That will be an exciting race. But today they qualified 1.4s ahead, so perhaps it won’t quite be like Spa.
“There’s three drivers from the three front teams all on their own with teammates right at the back of the grid, so we will be kind of in two separate races. Those guys should be slicing through the field very quickly and if there is a safety car midway through the race, then they will be in the fight as well.
“I’m sure they will be on an off-set strategy as well, so there’s no reason those three are out of the race. As we’ve seen — a few VSCs, a few safety cars can play into other people’s favor.”
That said, Russell also says the way Mercedes tends to be stronger on a Sunday gives him hope that he might be in the frame for a win, although admits there is no explanation for the team’s inconsistent form.
“I’d love to tell you. We’ve got the best engineers in the business working day and night to understand why our performance is fluctuating so much 15 races in and we still don’t have a grasp as to why that is. So that is a bit disappointing. We are in no man’s land on a Saturday in terms of performance because we’re so far behind the front two and a little bit ahead of the midfield. At least we have a fast race car.
“We want to win races. That’s still the goal. The goal is to definitely win races but having looked at the last race, having looked at Budapest, when we’ve sort of compromised our race to cover off a faster car has ended up compromising the overall result. So perhaps we need to take a slightly different approach for ourselves.
“Perhaps it will pay dividends later on, but realistically I hope we should be on the podium tomorrow. But I’d like to think also we can fight for a win.”