George Russell unsure if Mercedes can match McLaren race pace at Suzuka

George Russell said that the team expected to be languishing behind McLaren at Suzuka

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George Russell has said that qualifying for the Japanese Grand Prix was an accurate representation of the true speed of Mercedes, as they qualified over a second behind Max Verstappen in pole position.

In the span of six days, the Silver Arrows have gone from having a good shot at pole in Singapore to being outqualified by McLaren, a customer team, by almost half a second.

The change shows how the battle behind Red Bull drastically changes from weekend to weekend, with Mercedes already having identified Suzuka as a difficult track based on their performance at Silverstone.

“That was I think a fair representation of where the pace of our car is this weekend,” Russell told media after qualifying. “We knew after Silverstone that this was going to be a difficult circuit for us.

“The McLarens were taking two tenths out of us per corner really in Turn 13 and 15 at Silverstone, which is exactly the speed range that we see for the majority of Suzuka.”

“When you see the sector times you’re always pushing to try and go faster than the pace of the car,” Russell continued. “And unfortunately it was probably making it slower by sliding around.”

Set up challenges

Russell noted that he felt the set-up on his car was good yesterday, but he feels the team went backwards. It’s a habit that affects Mercedes as the team and drivers attempt to expand the working window of the W14 to squeeze an extra tenth or two of performance out of the package.

“We made some changes,” Russell continued. “I think when you’re off-the-pace, you’re trying to find everything possible and try and find a silver bullet.

“But often in this sport there’s never really any magical way with the setup and as I said, we probably made it a bit slower trying to find more time that just wasn’t there.”

Mercedes eyeing strategic masterclass

Mercedes hold two sets of hard tyres while McLaren have two sets of mediums, meaning that if tyre degradation is higher than possible, the Silver Arrows have more options on strategy.

If McLaren are struggling on their tyres and having to manage them, their overall pace will suffer, while Mercedes might be able to push two sets of hards more without bleeding as much lap-time.

It might be the second bold tyre strategy in a week for the team, which in Singapore reserved an extra set of medium tyres for the race, at the expense of losing a set of softs for qualifying.

When a safety car was triggered late into the race, both drivers pitted and used the newer mediums as their rivals tried to manage hards on a one-stop, a decision that almost won Mercedes the race.

So in their anticipation of being slower than McLaren the Silver Arrows could be plotting a radical strategy, or be poised to capitalise on any opportunities that arise, to make up the pace deficit.

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