George Russell was surprised at Mercedes‘ pace as he surged to F1 Sprint Race victory in Brazil, but said he expects Max Verstappen and Red Bull to be the team to beat in the 2022 Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.
Lewis Hamilton said Mercedes were entering the weekend cautiously with worries the track wouldn’t suit the W13, but they were the class of the field in the Sprint Race, as Russell passed Max Verstappen to win and Lewis Hamilton moved into second for the Grand Prix.
“I expect Max and Red Bull to be the driver and team to beat tomorrow,” Russell told Sky Sports F1. “Obviously Max can have his usual day and his pace at practice was really fast.”
Russell challenged Verstappen early on in the sprint but the Dutchman looked like he’d pulled a gap after he overtook Kevin Magnussen for the lead.
The only top-10 driver to start on the medium tyres, it seemed Russell‘s window to attack had passed as the race wore on but Verstappen struggled on the harder rubber and the Brit came back into the mix.
He made the race-winning move on lap 15 after several aborted attempts, and Verstappen dropped down the field claiming damage to the car from debris.
He eventually finished fourth but will start third for the race, thanks to a five-place grid penalty for Carlos Sainz following an engine change.
“Their loss today is going to be their gain tomorrow, that soft was clearly the best tyre,” Russell added.
“It’s a bit strange how it was slow off the pace, I don’t think anybody was really expecting that, we were 50-50 between going on the soft and the medium so we’re going to have to have a think tomorrow about how we approach it.
“We’re going to have to use the medium at some point and it doesn’t look like it’s going to be a pleasant experience.”
Mercedes are understandably elated with the win, having struggled in 2022 compared to their previous years of dominance.
Russell took pole at the 2022 Hungarian Grand Prix but this is another step-forward again, beating a Red Bull in a dogfight on-track and getting a race victory because of it.
That’s after the team were routinely getting lapped by the frontrunners in the early part of the season, and even failed to make it to Q3 at the Miami Grand Prix.
However, both Hamilton and Russell will be hoping these gains are a sign of things to come in 2023, with both 2022 championships well out of reach.
“It’s so great to see the progress we’re making as a team,” Russell said. “I’m so proud of all the work everybody’s been putting in and it’s such a morale booster going into the winter regardless of the outcome tomorrow this is a huge result for us.
“We’re definitely making steps forward, we’re definitely surprised as a team about how competitive we’ve been, we knew we’d brought a sizeable update to Austin but we’ve definitely surprised ourself at how well it’s been performing so we’ll definitely take that.”