George Russell rued being a “sitting duck” on the straights during the Sao Paulo Grand Prix weekend due to a Mercedes set-up compromise that only yielded “negatives”.

Like in Saturday’s shortened Sprint race, both Russell and team-mate Lewis Hamilton were unable to capitalise on early progress that had them running fifth and third respectively on the first lap as they slipped down the order amid severe tyre degradation woes.

Having been demoted to 10th, Russell retired in the closing stages amid concerns over rising engine temperatures, while Hamilton was shuffled down to eighth by the end.

Russell, who led a Mercedes 1-2 at Interlagos last year, attributed the side’s struggles to encountering issues with the tyres it was unable to solve under the set-up limitations imposed under the Sprint format.

“Mind-boggling weekend to understand,” Russell said. “Had relatively high expectations and just absolutely no pace at all.

“Same car as the last five races, so clearly we’ve got something wrong with the tyres and in a Sprint race weekend when you get it wrong you can’t make amends for those issues.”

Mercedes’ drag-induced straight-line speed deficit this season was accentuated even further in Brazil by its decision to run a higher downforce rear wing angle on its W14.

But both drivers still suffered from sliding and soaring tyre temperatures, leaving Russell and Hamilton unable to mitigate the time lost down the straights in the corners.

“Definitely a sitting duck. The choice we made to run a bit more downforce. When you run more downforce you’re meant to gain the speed through the corners, keep the tyres under control, and that wasn’t the case. We didn’t have the benefit we only had the negatives,” Russell explained.

George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 W14. 05.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Race Day.

But Russell isn’t alarmed by Mercedes’ top speed shortfall being an issue ahead of the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix that will feature a colossal 1.900km back straight.

“We’ll be on a totally different rear wing, so I don’t expect to be the quickest, Red Bull is still the most competitive along with Williams, but I’ll be surprised if it’s as bad as this,” he added.

The Sao Paulo GP marked an unexpected downturn in form for Mercedes, who had been a regular podium contender since the series of flyaway rounds commenced.

Russell believes that the German marque’s sudden slump will prove to be an anomaly, despite conceding that the entire team is still puzzled by its noticeable pace drop.

Asked how frustrating it was to have its recent momentum halted, Russell answered: “I mean…it’s…so many question marks. It’s the same car we had since Austin, where the car’s been capable of podiums every race – even before then, Singapore, Qatar, capable of podiums.

“This is clearly a substantial, one-off event. We need to understand what we’ve got wrong because right now we don’t really know.”

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