Good times have been rare at Mercedes this season. The team’s underperforming car stoically made them smile and endure. During qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix and out of the blue, they finally had the chance to just smile as a good time came to them for George Russell delivering an extraordinary lap to take his first Formula 1 pole position and Mercedes’ first of the season. .
There was elation in the Mercedes garage at the Hungaroring as the mechanics and engineers who had been under pressure all season were finally able to enjoy the adrenaline rush of success again. While Russell, the 24-year-old who is always careful to keep his emotions in check, lit up with pleasure.
“That’s what running is for,” he said. “Why do I wake up every day because feelings like this are something you can’t really dream of.”
Nicknamed Mr Saturday for his unique lap in qualifying while in an underperforming car at Williams, Russell will surely find the moniker nearly impossible to shake in the future.
The magnitude of his achievement cannot be overestimated. His car has been behind all season and he looked like he was more than half a second behind the leaders at best. As recently as last night, he and the team were still furiously looking for ways to update it. Yet with so little preparation when it mattered, Russell threw it around the Hungaroring with jaw-dropping abandon and then paid tribute to his team.
“Yesterday was probably our toughest Friday of the whole season,” he said. “We were all here until 11pm last night scratching our heads, morale was pretty low and we felt pretty lost. To come back and get pole position 24 hours later is such a feeling because I know what we went through last night. There are no qualifying points, but to get this result for all of us is pretty huge.
A technically challenging circuit with a preponderance of medium and slow speed corners, the Hungaroring must be handled with absolute precision. This was later home to Russell’s teammate Lewis Hamilton with a record eight poles here. Yet he could only manage seventh place on Saturday as his runner-up flew away. Russell’s talent was never in doubt, here at every turn of the wheel it was written big as Hamilton acknowledged.
“Congratulations to George,” he said. “It’s an incredible feeling to get the first pole position and it’s huge for the team, we don’t know where the pace is coming from all of a sudden, it came out of nowhere, it’s a huge positive. He should be able to win from this position at this track.
The lap was the best of his four-year career, one that included a remarkable second on the grid in the rain at Spa for Williams. Still, it had to be to move Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc into second and third place, although championship leader Max Verstappen had a bad afternoon, his Red Bull losing power on his final lap. and finishing 10th. On this form, Russell would still have the measure of the Dutchman.
This season’s Mercedes is a mercurial car, difficult to adjust, difficult to balance and with a narrow operating window where it gives its best. In Budapest, they and Russell found him. As noted by team principal Toto Wolff, with a relieved humor that matched the mood. “We just need to write down everything we did this morning, including the food and drinks we drank in order to reproduce it,” he said.
So, do you dare dream of Mr Saturday leaving Hungary with a first victory under his belt on the day that really matters in F1? He was, as always, cautious but knows he has every chance. Their car has been consistently better in race pace this season and if Russell can keep his lead on the line it won’t be easy to pass. Of course, there was no lack of ambition. “We will absolutely go for it, victory is what we are looking for,” he said, still smiling.
On Saturday morning, F1 launched a campaign to tackle fan abuse online and in person, under the banner ‘Drive it Out’. It is supported by all the teams and the FIA. “Abuse of any kind is unacceptable. If you can’t be respectful then don’t be part of our sport,” F1 said. The Austrian GP has been marred by accusations of sexist calls, inappropriate touching of female fans and homophobic and racist abuse, while social media has seen an increase in often vitriolic and offensive speech between fans of different pilots.
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