George Russell attended the 2023 Australian Grand Prix Thursday Drivers’ Press Conference. Here is the full transcript!
Q: George, the man who finished third here last year and thought he’d finished third in Saudi of course, two weeks ago, but you ended up fourth. What was your reaction to Fernando getting that third place back?
George RUSSELL: Yeah, I mean, obviously, it was the right decision. It was just a bit of a shame, what a mess it was for everybody else included, I think from my side and our side, we didn’t feel like we deserved to finish in third position, but obviously it’s quite a nice feeling when it’s handed to you. And then when it’s obviously taken away from you again… It was all a bit silly. Fernando was actually the first person to tell me that I’d lost the position, because I bumped into him at the airport. So he clearly had some insider info. But congrats to him, he was a deserving P3 finisher.
Q: You say you think you didn’t deserve to finish third, but do you feel you maximised the potential of the car last week?
GR: Yeah, to be honest, I felt like Saudi was probably one of my strongest weekends I’ve ever had with Mercedes, from qualifying, really pleased with how that went, the race felt really strong. And P4 was, I think, the absolute maximum we could have achieved. I think the Ferraris were probably a little bit fast for us that weekend. We also had Stroll, who obviously had the failure, but he was right behind us. So P4 was a good result.
Q: George, a lot has been written and spoken about the W14, not all of it complimentary, it has to be said. Are things as bad as some people want us to believe?
GR: Yeah, I mean, I don’t read what’s been said in the news all the time. But you know, we’re here to win, we’re here to fight for victories and for the championship and clearly we’re not in a position to do that at the moment. But big changes are incoming. There’s nothing that you’ll see on the car this weekend, because naturally you can’t get things brought that quickly to the car. But I think in due course, we’ll see some big changes and hopefully the lap times represent that.
Q: Have you been able to try the changes on the simulator back in Brackley?
GR: Yeah, I mean, we’re working really hard at the moment with these changes. I won’t give too much away. And we need to make sure they work as expected. But as we’ve said a number of times, we’re probably finding more gains in the past two or three weeks than we found over the whole winter by clearly developing in the wrong window. So yeah, it’s definitely heading in the right direction.
Q: Just a quick word on this weekend. What’s possible?
GR: I think if we manage to get another P4 or fight for the podium that will probably be exceeding the potential of the car. I think Aston [Martin] are going to be really strong here. They seem to be the quickest car in medium-speed corners and obviously there’s plenty of them here in Melbourne. So, if we can fight with Aston and Ferrari again, that’d be a good weekend.
Q: Pierre, let’s come to you now. Clearly a man who’s enjoying being back in Melbourne. What have you been up to: surfing, golf, supercars? Have I missed anything?
Pierre GASLY: Ha! Actually, it’s been a pretty busy last couple of days. But I will say, highlights? Driving a V8 Supercar was pretty cool. That was definitely a very enjoyable experience. It was only a few laps. We’ve got a bit of drifting in as well yesterday. The team kept us busy, but yeah, very enjoyable so far.
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QUESTIONS FROM THE FLOOR
Q: (David Croft – Sky Sports F1) Stefano Domenicali said he might be in favour of changing the schedule, mixing things up a little bit and having a bit less practice on a Grand Prix weekend. So to you all, honestly, do you need three practice sessions on a race track each weekend?
GR: I think no is the answer. Obviously the more practice you do, the more up to speed you’ll be, the more comfortable you’ll be with the car. I don’t think it’s right that Formula 1 has three times the amount of practice that you have in the F3 and F2 categories. They should be the ones to get more practice, also because they’re doing less races, they don’t get to test that often. No practice would be too little. I wasn’t in favour of the sprint races initially, but having done – how many have we done now? Six, nine, maybe over the two years? I really enjoy the sprint races and having action on a Friday, I think, is vital for all of us and also for the entertainment factor.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) Following up on that, regardless of how many practices, what do you think about the idea of putting something in practice that makes it worth fighting for like setting a really quick lap time, be it points or some other kind of benefit? Or do you think practice should be just left as practice to dial in the cars?
GR: I think, just practice to dial in the car, to test things for the future. We obviously have no testing at all. I think one session is good enough for all of us to do the various things we need to try and to help develop. This is still the pinnacle of the sport and you don’t want to be just left with the car that you created at the start of the year with no opportunity to try out new things. And that is sort of the beauty, sometimes; you’ve got this 60-minute session, you can try new things, develop, improve further. Whereas if you’re going straight into a session that is points-worthy or there is a reward, you’re less likely to trial new things.
Q: (Mat Coch – Speedcafe.com) I just want to get back to the practice stuff. Ignoring everything else, what’s your idea of a perfect race weekend considering practice, sprints, qualifying, everything?
GR: I probably say, for the benefit of the two or 3,000 people travelling around the world, having the first session on a Friday afternoon, evening so there’s less pressure for teams to arrive, let’s say, on a Wednesday. If you have your first session on Friday morning you need to be here on a Thursday which for a lot of the races requires flying on a Wednesday and if we can push that back to allow teams to fly on a Thursday morning… You add that up over 24 races in a year, you’re getting on for almost a month extra at home or sleeping in your own bed, which is huge for everybody in this circus. So yeah, I’d say Sprint format, but just making sure that first session is delayed a bit.
Q: (Luke Smith – The Athletic) George, another question for you with your GPDA hat on. Last year when we came, I think you said that the Australian Grand Prix being a standalone event just didn’t really make a lot of sense for many of the same reasons. It is again this year. How much input do you and GPDA have when it comes to looking at the calendar and issues such as that, particularly when it comes to the wellbeing of the people in the paddock as you highlighted?
GR: Yeah, I think collectively, we have a really strong input. And I think Stefano’s incredibly open to hear our views and have conversations. There’s obviously been a lot of talk about how sustainable the calendar is, jumping from the Middle East to America and back to Europe. And I think in years to come that will be improved. I think for a lot of the fans it doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are a lot of limitations with the climate; we race at certain events and limitations of street circuits, of when they can open them. But definitely I think Australia needs to be back-to-back with a Middle Eastern race, because I think almost all of us flew out here on a Saturday or Sunday last week. All of the mechanics, the engineers likewise so you’re already losing those additional three or four days. So yeah, it makes sense to be back to back with a Middle Eastern race.
Q: (Sam Johnston – Sky Sports) George, going back to Jeddah, Lewis seemed to think after the race that he described the difference in your setups as 50-50 and you suggested you got lucky, it wasn’t necessarily like a choice that he expected to work out for you. I was just interested in your reflections on that and how you saw the difference in your setups?
GR: Yeah, I don’t think there’s any luck in it at all, I think it’s down to the preparation you put in before the event and the changes we made overnight, I knew that was going to be the right direction with the work we did with the team. And I believed it was going to be better than the setup that Lewis opted for. So yeah, I think everybody’s got different preferences. I was happy with the direction I took and with the work I’m doing with the engineers.
Q: (Adam Cooper – Motorsport.com) How difficult is it to line your car up in the grid box and they’re being made 20 centimetres wider this weekend? Will that make any difference?
GR: I think it’s incredibly tough. I think a five-second penalty for being laterally out is probably too harsh. Yeah, we can’t see anything when we line up so yeah, the penalty needs to be reflected on the difficulty.
Q: (Sam Johnston – Sky Sports) George, just going back to what you said on the development of the car over the last two to three weeks, does it feel like the team and yourself have moved on your position and how you saw the car performing this season. You were very optimistic pre-season and less so in Bahrain, and now you seem to be more positive again. So has that kind of lifted your expectations of where you see yourself being by the end of the season?
GR: I think it’s a case of managing expectations, and just focusing on yourself and that development. We all believed over the winter what we were doing was correct because it was an evolution of what we did throughout last year. And we all saw the improvements we made as a team throughout last year to win a race at the end of the year and be fighting at the front. Yeah, it caught us by surprise to see the lack of performance when we hit the track in Bahrain and that’s why we were quick to change our approach. I think already on the Saturday night of the Bahrain Grand Prix, we were trying different things, going in a different direction with the development because we recognised we’d maybe gone too far. So I’m not going to sit here and say we’re incredibly optimistic. All I will say is we are making improvements and that should translate into lap time. But we recognise that Red Bull are over a second down the road at the moment.