Russell: 'Nothing gained, nothing lost' with sprint strategy

© XPB 

George Russell insisted that he had no regrets about adopting a risky soft tyre strategy for Saturday's sprint race in Qatar, which briefly saw him leap into the lead ahead of Oscar Piastri but ultimately couldn't last the distance.

Lining up in fourth place on the grid for the 19-lap race under the floodlights at Lusail International Circuit, Russell was the top driver on the softs with everyone ahead of him opting for the medium compound.

That gave him an early advantage and he was able to take the lead of the race from Oscar Piastri on lap 3 when the race restarted following an early safety car for a car spinning off on the opening lap.

"We knew that the soft tyre would offer about seven meters into the first corner," he told the media in the paddock after the race. "The first lap was a little bit wild.

"I had turn 6 in mind as the overtaking opportunity on the medium runners," he continued. "I knew I would have the advantage at the beginning, so I was pleased to pull off the move on Piastri."

But the tyres fell off a cliff in terms of performance much earlier that the team had been expecting, leaving Russell unable to defend himself from Piastri, Max Verstappen and Lando Norris in the closing laps.

"I was surprised by how quickly the Soft tyre dropped off and we were fortunate that there were a number of safety car interventions. Without that, we may have finished outside the points.

"We don't think we've ever seen a sprint race where the tyre has degraded like this," Russell admitted. "With all have information we had from the previous 12 Sprint races, we've never had a race like this."

During a safety car on lap 11, Russell pleaded with the Mercedes pit wall to allow him to pit for fresh tyres, complaining that otherwise he would be easily picked off by the cars on mediums.

He was turned down flat, with his race engineer telling him that it would put him right at the back. He duly stayed out and was able to minimise the damage, dropping from second to fourth by the chequered flag.

Russell denied that opting for the soft tyres had been a high risk strategy from the outset. "We didn't go in with the mentality that it was going to be a punt or a gamble.

"We didn't use the tyre in practice. We thought the tyre was similar to the medium, and we thought we needed to gather the data ahead of ahead of tomorrow.

"It we had started on the medium I think would have finished in the same place," he argued. "If we were on the medium we would have still finished P4, so nothing gained, nothing lost."

Russell was pleased to see that he had better performance than both Ferraris which also used the soft tyres." We were on the same tyres as them and we were faster.

"We are in a great place tomorrow to fight against the McLarens too. It's going to be interesting from a strategy perspective [in tomorrow's Grand Prix], so let's see what we can do."

Russell's team mate adopted the counter strategy of running the medium tyres, having underperformed in qualifying leaving him P12 on the grid. He went on to finish just behind Russell in P5.

"I was quite slow at the beginning on the medium." he said. "I knew that the degradation would be high though, and that the race would come back to us. Did I know that I was going to be able to get back up to fifth? No. But I was hoping!

"It was a difficult start with the medium tyre, it just wasn't firing the same as the soft tyre," he explained. "The guys on the soft tyre were so quick, so I was gaining positions, losing positions.

"It was actually a really good start and then I got stuck behind these cars [on mediums], then once we got going and they started having an impact on their tyre I was able to start getting past."

Lewis Hamilton (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. 07.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 18, Qatar Grand Prix, Doha, Qatar, Sprint Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Moy / XPB Images

Like Russell, he backed Mercedes' strategy calls and said it had been the right decision to start him on different tyres than Russell.

"If I had started on the Soft, I would have gained several places perhaps in the beginning," he acknowledged. "But then long down the road I would have struggled just like everybody else.

"I think it was important for us to separate the cars, for George to get the information on the soft," he said. "That said, tomorrow we start third. That is obviously a much better place to be lining up than we were today.

"We should be looking to fight to hold that position. We know it will be difficult to hold the McLarens behind = they are a little further back though, so we will be doing our best to do that.

"We will be giving it everything we've got, as always."

Keep up to date with all the F1 news via Facebook and Twitter