‘It’s not spectacular’ – Mercedes say they’re ‘further off the pace than we hoped’ after Friday in France
There was plenty of hype surrounding Mercedes in the build-up to the French Grand Prix, many believing that the track characteristics of the Circuit Paul Ricard, plus an upgrade to their W13, made them dark horses this weekend. But both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton appeared a touch downhearted at the end of Friday’s French running, ending FP2 over seven-tenths off the leading pace.
With the Mercedes W13 sporting an upgraded floor and tweaks around the nose, Russell ended FP1 in P4 – as Hamilton sat out to let Nyck de Vries have a go – while Russell then led Hamilton in a Mercedes four-five in FP2.
But with Russell ending up 0.764s adrift off session leader Carlos Sainz, and Hamilton over two-tenths further back, the Briton at least seemed buoyed by the team’s long-run pace.
“A lot to go over,” said Russell. “I think our high-fuel pace was probably better than our low-fuel pace, so we need to make sure we optimise tomorrow to make sure there are no midfield cars in between us and the front four, and then see how we get on for Sunday. But I think the Ferrari probably struggled a bit more than us, Max [Verstappen] looked very fast as usual, so work to do.”
Asked, however, if he felt the upgrade had helped Mercedes close up to Red Bull and Ferrari, Russell added: “I need to look exactly the data. We think so, but everybody keeps on improving their car, keeps on bringing updates and the whole grid just moves forward, so even though we are finding time, our rivals are also finding time, so it’s sometimes not quite so simple to see it on the lap chart.”
Meanwhile, when he was asked if Mercedes were looking like an “outside shot” for the victory this weekend, Russell replied: “Outside shot is probably a way to put it. We are probably a little bit further off the pace today than we would have hoped. Work to do tonight back at the factories, but never say never.”
On the other side of the garage, meanwhile, Hamilton – despite coming into his 300th Grand Prix weekend – admitted that losing track time in FP1 had held him back a touch, as he gave his assessment on Mercedes’ pace.
“It wasn’t the best of sessions, naturally because we missed the first one,” said Hamilton. “I tried to get back up to speed as quick as possible; it’s very hot so there is a lot of slow laps to try and get the temperatures down on the tyres, but I think I got through… I think I did alright – it was average I would say.
“We have a lot of work to do,” he added, “a lot of ground to cover. Our car’s not spectacular here and we don’t know why but I’m sure hopefully overnight – we usually make a bit of a step, so hoping that’s the case tomorrow.”
Mercedes are going in search of their first win of the year this weekend, with Hamilton on a run of three straight podiums as he gets set to become just the sixth driver in F1 history to hit 300 starts.