Russell mystified by Abu Dhabi GP qualifying: I thought we’d fight for pole

Mercedes' George Russell qualified fourth for the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP, just 0.006 seconds off the McLaren of Oscar Piastri

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George Russell admitted he didn’t understand where Mercedes lost their pace in qualifying after he topped two out of three practice sessions ahead of the 2023 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, but will only start fourth.

Russell was bested by three teams as Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc and Oscar Piastri qualified ahead of the Mercedes man, but it was an even bigger nightmare for Lewis Hamilton, who failed to reach Q3 on pace and complained of issues with the car.

The only saving grace for Mercedes was Carlos Sainz‘s shock Q1 elimination as he was held up by traffic after struggling all weekend in the SF-23. Ferrari trail by Mercedes just four points in the constructors’ championship going into the final race of the season.

“I didn’t know what to expect to be honest,” Russell told the media. “After FP3 I thought we could fight for pole and then we just didn’t make the jump that every team seemed to make.

“It’s often the case when you’ve got a session in the day, a session in the night, things change and you need to adapt to those. But I think P4 is a great place to start, very close to P3 and that’s probably a fair representation of where we are.”

Mercedes three tenths off projection

George Russell at the Mercedes end-of-season photoshoot at the 2023 Abu Dhabi GP | LAT Images / Mercedes F1 Team

Russell, Piastri and Leclerc all improved late on, and the Mercedes driver was an agonising six thousandths of a second behind the Australian for third.

If both Mercedes and Ferrari drivers finished where they qualified, then Leclerc‘s result would seal the constructors’ runner-up position, but Russell doesn’t look to be too far behind his rival.

However, it could’ve been even better – after topping FP3 earlier in the day, Russell admitted he would’ve landed pole if his Mercedes had made the expected pace for qualifying as he finished three-tenths behind polesitter Verstappen.

“Maybe we got ahead of ourselves after FP3 with a really strong session, but it’s definitely something we need to look into,” Russell added.

“Because FP3 we were quickest every single lap and on paper when the track drops 10 degrees and you take out all of the fuel you’re expected to maybe make a one-second jump, we only made a six-tenth jump so yes something we need to look into.”

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