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Formula 1 Qatar GP

Russell: Soft tyre choice for F1 Qatar sprint was not “stupid”

George Russell says the decision to take the soft tyre for Saturday’s Formula 1 sprint in Qatar “wasn’t stupid”, despite its performance dropping off much earlier than expected.

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Oscar Piastri, McLaren MCL60

Russell was one of several drivers to go for the soft, with the Ferrari, Alpine and Aston Martin drivers among those to join him.

From fourth on the grid he passed medium starters Max Verstappen and Lando Norris, and then relieved Oscar Piastri of the lead.

However his tyres began to suffer and after losing the lead he even suggested that he made a pit stop for fresh rubber under the safety car.

He was told to stay out and eventually fell back to his starting position of fourth. After the flag he insisted he had no regrets about the strategy.

“We didn't go in with the mentality that it was going to be a punt or a gamble,” he said when asked by Autosport about his tyre choice. “We didn't use the tyre in practice, we thought the tyre was similar to the medium.

“And we thought we needed to gather the data ahead of ahead of tomorrow. Had we started on the medium, I think we would have finished in the same place.

“We knew that the soft tyre would offer about seven metres into the first corner. But it's so easy to fall back when you get a bit of wheelspin, you just drop like a stone. I had that in the last race, I think it was a really bad start. We took advantage.

“I don't think we've ever seen a sprint race where the tyre has degraded like this.

"So with all of the information we had from the previous 10 or 12 sprint races we've had, we've never had a race like this, so the decision wasn't stupid, it wasn't a gamble, it was made with the right process. It just didn't work out.”

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, arrives on the Sprint grid

George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, arrives on the Sprint grid

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / Motorsport Images

Russell said saving an extra mediums for Sunday’s main race, when three stops are set to be mandated, was not part of his thinking.

“No, not really, to be honest,” he said. “I don't know exactly where the overall allocation is. We truly thought the soft was going to be a viable race tyre.

"We saw in Silverstone on the C1/2/3 that the soft tyre was performing well. But clearly, this circuit is bit different with the new tarmac.”

Russell’s team-mate Lewis Hamilton opted for the medium despite the obvious benefit that the soft would have given him at the start. From his 12th place on the grid he worked his way up to fifth by the flag.

“It was difficult to start off with," Hamilton admitted. "Obviously on the medium tyre, it just wasn’t firing the same as the soft tyre, the people with soft tyres were so quick. Gaining positions, losing positions. I actually had a really good start, but then I got stuck behind [Sergio] Perez.

“But then once we got going and they started having an impact on their tyres I started having the battles. And it was so much fun to have those deltas between the cars. I hope there’s something like that tomorrow.”

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Hamilton said he’d expected the soft runners to hit trouble: “I’m not surprised, even the hard tyre it grained pretty quick, and these guys were flat chat.

“Did I expect it to drop off? I didn’t know how much I would have a step on them, but I am grateful for it. To get 12th to fifth is pretty decent.”

Hamilton indicated that splitting the strategies between the cars gave Mercedes useful information for Sunday’s main event.

“Definitely if I’d started on the soft at the start I would’ve gained a lot, several places perhaps, at the beginning,” he said. “But down the road I would have struggled, just like everybody else.

“I think it was important for us to separate the cars so George could get information on the softs, and I could get information. That’s how we work together as a team.”

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