George Russell has predicted whichever frontrunning driver can manage their tyres best and prevent graining in the 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix will emerge victorious, expecting it to be a major issue throughout the race.
Russell had a brilliant qualifying session, finishing fourth and just 0.008s off a front-row start while Lewis Hamilton couldn’t even reach Q3, but said starting position within the top 10 was largely irrelevant.
Las Vegas represents a step into the unknown for Formula 1 with the race starting at 22:00 local time on Saturday night (06:00 in the UK on Sunday morning), but qualifying passed without major incident despite fears over dangerously cold tyres.
“Yeah happy with the result, I felt confident around this circuit. We weren’t expecting to be this competitive coming into this weekend,” Russell told the media. “But as strange as it sounds, I wasn’t too concerned with where we qualified today as long as we were in the top 10.
“Because it’s the biggest unknown of the season going into the race tomorrow, we saw huge amounts of graining on all teams. If you can stay within the threshold of not graining, a one-stop will be comfortable.
“But as soon as you start graining the tyres you have to pit. I don’t think we’ve done more than 12 laps without graining the tires so that’s going to be the big challenge.”
Russell: Ferrari in a league of their own
Russell added that Ferrari appear the team to beat at the Las Vegas Strip Circuit despite Red Bull entering the weekend as favourites.
Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz both start outside the top 10 though with Red Bull leaving the championship runner-up in the garage to get eliminated at the end of Q2, and Sainz suffering a cruel 10-place grid penalty.
The Spaniard’s the only driver to deny Red Bull a clean sweep of grand prix victories in the 2023 F1 season thanks to his win at the Singapore GP, but there’s genuine hope Charles Leclerc could cause another upset from pole position.
“You can drive slower and that will manage the tyres but you’ll get attacked from behind,” Russell added. “We’ve got some indication of which corners we need to manage but I had one run where the front tyres got grained, the next one it was the rear tyres. And it’s really on a knife’s edge.
“Ferrari look in a league of their own, they haven’t had any graining, been super fast with the high fuel. But equally, as the track grips up tomorrow maybe we’ll see graining in stint one, that you won’t see it in stint two or three.
“The track is going to be three seconds quicker in the last laps compared to the early laps, probably more because we’ve got no support series, nothing, the track’s going to be a disaster in the first time laps of the race.”