Russell: Pace would have "fallen off a cliff" trying to fight Perez

George Russell thinks his pace would have “fallen off a cliff” if he’d tried fighting Sergio Perez before “cruising” to score his first Formula 1 podium for Mercedes in Australia.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18, George Russell, Mercedes W13

Russell sat fifth during the opening stint of the race at Albert Park before pitting under the safety car to leap up to third ahead of both Red Bull driver Perez and team-mate Lewis Hamilton.

Russell was instructed with 20 laps to go not to fight Perez for third place as he needed to manage his tyres to the end of the race. Perez ultimately got the overtake completed three laps later.

But after Max Verstappen’s late DNF for Red Bull, Russell was able to grab third after keeping the chasing Hamilton at an arm’s length through the closing stages.

It marked Russell’s first podium for Mercedes, and came after a difficult start to the season for the team that has seen it fail to match Red Bull and Ferrari for pace.

“You've got to be in it to win it, and capitalise from others misfortune,” Russell said. “Obviously we got a little bit lucky today probably twice, but you know, we take it.

“There's so much hard work going on back at base in Brackley and Brixworth to try to get us back to the front, so to be standing on the podium is special.”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, 2nd position, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 1st position, George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, 3rd position

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, 2nd position, Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, 1st position, George Russell, Mercedes-AMG, 3rd position

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Russell acknowledged it was “difficult losing a podium spot” when conceding the place to Perez, but agreed the long-term benefits meant it was not worth putting up a fight.

“I want to do everything I can to keep the faster car behind, but ultimately we needed to manage that tyre,” Russell said.

“The front-left tyre was worse in the last corner, and I can’t manage through there.

“I really wanted to push it further, but I recognise we probably would have just fallen off a cliff if I went ever faster.

“I knew Lewis wasn’t going to make it easy for me. He never gives up, and he was pushing flat out to the end. But I think it was well managed and I was always able to stay out of DRS detection.

“Once Checo got past, it was pretty cruising.”

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Mercedes has been struggling with extreme porpoising on its W13 car so far this season, and Russell said the team had been “a long way behind our rivals” in Australia, having finished over a second off Charles Leclerc’s pole lap for Ferrari on Saturday, but stressed that Mercedes was “never going to give up”.

“I think it's going to take some time until we can fight these boys in red and blue, they look pretty exceptional at the moment,” Russell said. “But if anyone can, Mercedes can, so let's go for it.”

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