Canadian Grand Prix: 2024: George Russell rues 'missed opportunity' for Mercedes (2024)

George Russell scored Mercedes’ first podium position of what has so far been a difficult year at the Canadian Grand Prix but still left Montreal on Sunday night saying the race "felt like a missed opportunity".

The 26-year-old Briton was ruing what he said were two mistakes, but in fact were three, that prevented him from fighting for what could have been Mercedes’ first win since the 2022 Sao Paulo Grand Prix.

Russell had a point. He had cost himself significant time with some errors that were potentially decisive. The big picture for Mercedes in Montreal, though, was very much a positive one.

Russell took the team’s first pole position since Hungary last year, and his own since the same race a year before that. He led the first 20 laps under intense pressure from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, was in the fight at the front throughout, and both Verstappen and McLaren’s Lando Norris, who finished second, felt the Mercedes was the quickest car in Canada.

"I am a bit disappointed in myself," Russell, who finished third, said. "Two errors cost me. Maybe the end result might not have been that much different. But it feels great to be disappointed with third.

"We truly had a really fast car this weekend, and to be back in the mix fighting for victory was really fun.

"If you told us ahead of this weekend, [that we would take] pole position and [finish] P3, we may not have believed you."

The Mercedes was indeed truly rapid in Montreal. Russell’s pole time may have been exactly matched to the thousandth of a second by Verstappen, who started second because Russell set it first, but even the Dutchman admitted he could not have matched the times both Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton had managed in the second part of qualifying.

The claim by Verstappen and Norris that the Mercedes was the quickest car in the race was more questionable.

Norris said he "should have won" - and a first safety car period scuppered what was looking like becoming a race-winning advantage for the McLaren. And whenever Verstappen got into the lead, he never truly looked like losing it, and usually pulled away.

But to even be in the mix was a massive step forward for Mercedes, and a justification of the work they have done in recent weeks.

Where did this form come from? Mercedes had a bit of a rude awakening in the early races of this season when a car they believed would be a platform for them to build back towards the front actually left them in worse shape than they were last year.

But, since the Miami event early last month, Mercedes have been saying that they believed they had made a crucial breakthrough. Unlike in 2022 and 2023, they felt they now understood how to get the performance from the car, whereas in the previous two years any development to the car simply unlocked further problems.

They have been piling upgrades on to it since Miami - first new bodywork, then a new floor, and now a new front wing. And in Canada it all came together to create their best performance of the year by far.

Norris said: "They’ve clearly improved a lot. Like, the last two weekends, they've been pretty close to probably being the quickest car."

Hence Russell’s disappointment. Could he have won? "Maybe for a few minutes we dreamt about it," team boss Toto Wolff, said, "but in reality probably not."

Wolff’s realism rings true. Yes, Russell led the first 20 laps, but Verstappen and then Norris put him under increasing pressure as the track dried out.

By lap 21, Norris was past using the DRS on the back straight. And that led to the first of Russell’s errors. As the McLaren passed him, he missed the final chicane, and Verstappen was able to slip past, too, on the exit. First had become third in one corner.

Into the second phase of a dramatic race, after the track had been doused for a second time by another bout of rain, now it was Russell’s turn briefly to pressure Verstappen.

Once the race settled down after the first safety car period, though, the Red Bull began to ease away. Russell was beginning to come back at him as the track dried again, but then he was delayed after Norris made an error at the first corner and rejoined in front of him. Verstappen’s lead, which had been down to 2.4secs, was now back up to four.

The leaders pitted for dry-weather tyres and briefly Russell again looked to be inching close to Verstappen, only to cut the chicane at Turns Eight and Nine and drop behind Norris.

A second safety car gave Mercedes another shot - they pitted Russell and Hamilton for fresh tyres while Verstappen and Norris stayed out. So now the Mercedes drivers had a 10-lap tyre advantage with 11 laps to go, albeit they were now lying fourth and fifth, also behind the second McLaren of Oscar Piastri.

But then came the third error from Russell. Racing Piastri for third place and with the laps running out, he tried an overambitious move at the chicane on the outside and again took to the run-off, costing him more time, and a position to Hamilton. He fought back to pass both his team-mate and Piastri before the end. But any hope of catching Verstappen was gone.

"I am disappointed with my own performance but there is a lot to take away," Russell said.

"That mistake with Oscar when I tried overtaking him and I lost the position to Lewis cost us at least P2 and maybe going to fight with Max later in the race.

"For me, it was just one too many mistakes at key moments that cost us a shot of fighting with these two (Verstappen and Norris) towards the end of the race.

"But, you know, we'll take all the positives from this weekend. First podium, first pole position of the year and excited moving forward."

Russell was not the only Mercedes driver feeling he could have done a better job.

"It was a pretty bad weekend for me," said Hamilton, despite converting a seventh on the grid into fourth at the finish.

"Lots of mistakes and just overall really poor, fighting for fourth place when I should have been further up. It’s great we are looking like we are closer to the front, but I have some work to do to improve. Once I start driving with my head I should be able to get some better results."

Will this be a flash in the pan, a one-off, or are Mercedes about to make what had become a three-team fight at the front between Red Bull, Ferrari and McLaren, a four-way one?

Russell and Wolff were circ*mspect.

"It's no secret (Red Bull have) struggled a bit with their car these last three races,” Russell said. “So I think we need to see how their performance turns out (at the next race) in Barcelona, which is a little bit more of a conventional circuit.

"But this pace increase that we've seen from us this weekend, it hasn't been a surprise to us because all the numbers back at the factory told us we're going to be finding a big chunk of performance with these upgrades.

"So Barcelona is going to be interesting for everybody, but I'm confident we can be in the fight."

Wolff said: "Definitely since Imola we have taken the right steps and put parts on the car that was something we were struggling with and now directionally we seem to be adding performance every weekend.

"We have new parts coming in Barcelona that should help us and I would very much hope we can continue this positive trajectory."

But he added a note of caution: "Yeah, the car was very quick, but this track is very different from everything else; it is an outlier."

Norris was another to feel a win might have slipped away. In his case, it was perhaps even more justified.

He had an 11-second lead wiped out when the first safety car was deployed for Logan Sargeant’s crashed Williams, and he said McLaren had missed a trick in not pitting him then until a lap too late. That dropped him from first to third, behind Verstappen and Russell.

And the team left him out a lap longer than it might have done when the drivers were switching to slicks with about 25 laps to go.

Verstappen pitted, but Norris, very quick again by now, stayed out. He looked to have a sufficient advantage to come out ahead of the Red Bull.

But delaying two laps rather than one before responding enabled the world champion to get his new tyres up to temperature, and when Norris rejoined they were side by side. Norris slithered on the wet part of the track on pit-lane exit and Verstappen was through and back into the lead.

"We should have won the race today and we didn't, so, frustrating," Norris said. "We had the pace. Probably not in the dry at the end. It turned out it didn't really matter too much.

"We didn't do a good enough job as a team to box when we should have done and not get stuck behind the safety car. So I don't think it was a luck or unlucky kind of thing. I don't think it was the same as Miami (when a safety car gifted him the lead over Verstappen). This was just making a wrong call.

"So, it's on me and it's on the team and it's something we'll discuss after. We're at a level now where we're not satisfied with a second, like the target is to win. And we didn't do that. So, frustrating, but a tough race and still to end up in second when it could always finish and could be worse is still a good result."

As for Mercedes’ new-found pace, Norris added: "If they're quicker in the next few races, too, and they’ve kind of joined the fight of Ferrari, Red Bull, and us, then it's only going to make our life, I think, more exciting.

"More tricky and more stressful because now there will probably be eight cars which are fighting up there and challenging us all together. So exciting for us, exciting for probably everyone watching."

Through all this, it was somewhat ominous that Verstappen was the one to win again, taking his sixth victory in nine races to underline that the championship remains very much his to lose.

Russell said: "Red Bull have struggled a little bit the last couple of races, yet they've still won two of the last three. So I expect them to probably take a small step when we go back to the European races on more conventional circuits.

"But I really think our performance step is true and it's real. And I think we can be in this fight with McLaren. Let's hope we can continue being in the fight with Max."

Canadian Grand Prix: 2024: George Russell rues 'missed opportunity' for Mercedes (2024)
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