Russell plans to 'sneak through' front two in Austria

Mercedes' driver George Russell (R) chats to fellow Briton Lando Norris of McLaren after qualifying in Austria (Jure Makovec)
Mercedes' driver George Russell (R) chats to fellow Briton Lando Norris of McLaren after qualifying in Austria (Jure Makovec)

George Russell plans to sit back and enjoy a perfect view of an expected front row scrap between Max Verstappen and Lando Norris in Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix – and then try to steal an advantage and pass them.

He admitted, however, that Red Bull’s three-time world champion and McLaren’s young pretender are likely to have a pace advantage that he and Mercedes hope to overhaul during the second half of the 2024 season.

"The car is feeling really great at the moment and the team has worked really hard in bringing in these upgrades,” he said, after qualifying third at the Red Bull Ring on Saturday.

"It feels like we've got a real fight on our hands, especially with Ferrari. I think we are still a little bit behind McLaren and Max and Red Bull were flying today, but it is definitely going in the right direction for us."

After struggling since the return of ground effect technology in 2022, Mercedes have this year finally rediscovered competitive form and belief that they can win.

"We definitely changed a few things,” said Russell after qualifying.

“We changed the wing level, which helped with tyre degradation for tomorrow. We compromised qualifying a little bit to help the race tomorrow.

“The fact is McLaren still have that edge on us but three races in a row we're in the top three -- and that feels really great.

"So, I will sit back and watch (Norris and Verstappen) do their thing and try and sneak through.

“Realistically, the race is probably going to be behind us. Hopefully we don't compromise our race too much battling with these guys."

Fellow Briton Norris, struggling to shake off a virus, said he was satisfied with his lap.

“Max was in a league of his own, so I'm happy,” he said.

“Tricky conditions, a little bit more difficult than it was yesterday – and it was a lot closer, more difficult to get the laps in and to perfect the laps, but I'll take it."

On starting on the front row alongside his friend Verstappen, he said: “It's tough. When you look at the pace today, it's clear that we're going to have to give it a lot and we'll need something extra in order to beat the pace of Max and the Red Bulls.

"I'll try. I'll do a better job than I did this morning, that's for sure. So, for that, I'm excited."

Norris fought hard and passed Verstappen during the early part of the sprint race but could not resist him when he fought back on his way to victory, while Norris slipped back to third.