The wet opening practice session at Spa-Francorchamps left teams blind about choosing their best set-ups for the Belgian weekend – especially with parc ferme conditions kicking in from the start of Friday afternoon’s qualifying session.
Lewis Hamilton admitted it was a complete guessing game about how best to approach things, with Mercedes in the end covering its bases and opting for a lower and higher downforce configuration across both its cars.
While the higher downforce choice for Russell may have hurt him for the dry Q3 session, as he ended up seven tenths slower than Hamilton, the choice could yet pay off if things are wet in the races or tyre degradation proves to be an issue.
Speaking about the disparity of performance between the two cars, with Hamilton starting third on Sunday and Russell down in eighth, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Sky Sports F1 that they had split choices.
“We have run two very different rear wings and configurations,” he said. “And you can see that Lewis is just able to extract more performance from that.”
Asked if Russell’s option had hurt him, Wolff said: “It does, he has a bit of a barn door on the back. But that can be advantageous for tyre performance on Sunday. It didn’t help today so we need to assess why it didn’t.”
Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14
Photo by: Michael Potts / Motorsport Images
While Russell was aware of his wing choice, he still admitted to being slightly baffled about why he was so slow.
“We have just been off the pace,” he said. “To be honest, we struggled in that session and don’t really know why. I usually love those transitional sessions but every lap we were nowhere.
“So we need to try and review and understand. We know qualifying is not everything around here, but definitely we would have liked to have been higher up the order.”
While Hamilton was happy about his grid slot, he equally said the time he lost in the middle sector because of his wing level was not ideal.
“With FP1, it was wet running and getting the set-up ready for qualifying today when eventually it went to dry, it was just like a big guessing game,” he said. “I’m hoping that the car is decent in the long run tomorrow in the race.
“Generally the car was doing pretty decent. It’s just the middle sector [where] we’re losing a second. So I’ve got to go and study to try and figure out where that is, and if there’s any way with the package that I have, whether I can close that.”