'We’ve got to go for the win' – Russell and Hamilton reflect on 'dream' Melbourne qualifying as they eye victory
Mercedes’ George Russell qualified on the front row for the 2023 Australian Grand Prix but he said he was “disappointed” not to get pole position – while team mate Lewis Hamilton said he was going for the win on Sunday.
Russell qualified just over two-tenths away from Verstappen in the chase for pole position in Australia, where Sergio Perez’s mistake put him last on the grid and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso settled for P4 alongside Hamilton on the second row.
After qualifying second on Saturday for his first front row start since Sao Paulo 2022 – where he won the Grand Prix – Russell said: “We weren’t expecting that, that’s for sure. A lot of hard work going on back at the factory, here in Melbourne and wow, what a session for us. The car felt alive; the lap at the end was right on the limit I’ve got to be honest. I was a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get pole position.”
He added: “We’ve got to go for the win. Max is going to be extremely fast, there’s no hiding that. I think it’s difficult to overtake around this circuit so the start, Lap 1, is going to be vital. The Red Bull has extraordinary top speed so it’s going to be very difficult to fight with Max but let’s see how we get on… If the opportunity’s there, we’ll go for it.”
Hamilton, who qualified third on the grid ahead of Alonso – also the seven-time champion’s best start since Sao Paulo 2022 – said it was a “dream” to qualify so high up after taking P7 on the grid for the first two races of 2023.
“I’m so happy with this. This is totally unexpected,” he said. “Really, really proud of the team. George did a fantastic job today, so for us to be up in the two front rows is honestly a dream for us. We are all working as hard as we can to be back right at the front, so to be this close to Red Bull is honestly incredible.
“I hope tomorrow we can give them a bit of a run for their money, and we hope the weather is good,” he said.
Reminiscing over his sterling F1 debut here in 2007, Hamilton added that his goal on Sunday was “to get to first”, adding: “I’m going to be hoping for a day like the first year, 2007, Turn 1 here would be awesome. I don’t know if anyone remembers, but that will be awesome if we can do that.”
As for Team Principal Toto Wolff, he conceded that Verstappen held the advantage but said Mercedes’ qualifying performance was a much-needed boost for the Silver Arrows.
“Yeah, I think [it’s] good starting second and third, it’s been a while since we had no one really in front of our line in P2. So we’ll just try to make the best of it; Verstappen is in a league of his own but maybe we can then slot in. We needed a little bit of happiness and at least for the Saturday today we got some of that,” said the team boss