George Russell believes he made a mistake by backing off after passing Sergio Perez’s spun car in qualifying, because he thought he was at risk of a penalty.
Green flags were still being shown at the corner when Russell arrived. He passed through at speed, but DRS was deactivated moments later, costing him some time through the final corner. Even so, having cut 0.375 seconds off his lap time before he reached Perez, Russell was well-placed to improve.
However Russell was unsure whether he had passed a yellow flag. He therefore decided to slow down before the line, to ensure he would not be penalised for improving his lap time under yellow flags.
“I did [back off] but actually it was a green flag, not a yellow flag,” he confirmed. “So I’m a little bit frustrated because if I just continued, even without the DRS that was turned off, I would have comfortably been ahead of him and P5 to P6 would have been a big difference.”
He admitted he didn’t slow down instinctively when he saw Perez had spun, and only backed off later. “Fortunately there’s a bit of a run until the start line and it gives you a moment to think and this all went through my head: ‘If I don’t lift it could be a penalty here’.
“It’s always easy in hindsight. I think the good thing is we definitely have a fast race car, but starting P6, dirty side of the grid, yeah I’m a little bit frustrated with that.”
However he said his qualifying performance had already been compromised by having to do a second run in Q2, which used another set of new soft tyres. “We can’t blame anyone else, it was our Q2 lack of performance which caught us by surprise,” he said.
“[It meant] we had to take a second set and then we only had the one set in Q3. So that was a bit odd and that sort of really scuffed up our overall plans, really.”
Russell nonetheless drew encouragement from Mercedes’ improved performance this weekend. “It’s always pleasant to be in the mix,” he said.
“We’re still lacking probably a couple of times of base performance. Obviously it’s a short track here so the gaps don’t look as big.
“I think as a team, we truly understand why we were so slow in Spa and why from the get-go we showed more promising performance this weekend. But ultimately Max [Versatppen] and Red Bull are too quick for us. Our fight and battle with Ferrari at the moment.”
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