‘Thrilled’ Russell surprised to find extra pace at Spa

Williams came into this weekend’s Belgian Grand Prix weekend knowing that the fast, sweeping Spa-Francorchamps circuit wasn’t going to play to the strengths of the FW43.

Although a significant improvement on last year’s model, the car is still notably ‘draggy’ which is holing the team’s drivers George Russell and Nicholas Latifi back in race trim.

While Russell has been a regular visitor to the second round of qualifying this season, he didn’t expect that to be the case here. But he was proved wrong with an unexpected turn of speed from the car on Saturday.

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The team proved to be a whopping four seconds better than it was here at the same venue 12 months ago. That’s by far the best year-on-year improvement of any team: AlphaTauti was next best, three seconds up on last year’s performance by Toro Rosso.

“I am thrilled, and it was probably the best qualifying of the year for us!” Russell said after the end of the session.

“On paper, our car does not suit this circuit because of the long straights, so we were not expecting to be close to Q2.

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“We put a really good lap together and the car was feeling great. It was exhilarating driving around here with the car on the limit like that, so I am really pleased.”

Russell was 14th quickest in Q1, meaning he was right behind Sebastian Vettel and quicker than Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari.

He only managed one run in the second round and ended up qualifying in 15th place on the grid, putting him right behind the two Ferrari’s for the start of tomorrow’s race.

“We hope for rain tomorrow,” Russell commented. “If it is wet it might mix things up a bit, so fingers crossed the heavens open.”

“It was nice to be back in Q2 again this weekend,” said Williams’ head of vehicle performance Dave Robson. “It is testament to all the hard work throughout the team that we were.

“The new parts that we brought here are working well, which bodes well for the future,” he added. “It was a little surprising to be fighting with the two Ferraris, but it was nice to see us resume a proper battle with Haas and Alfa Romeo.

“Tomorrow is of course where it really counts but we have put ourselves in a good position with both cars to fight with Haas and Alfa Romeo. If we can also put some pressure on the Ferraris then we are set for a good race.”

Russell’s team mate wasn’t quite so jubilant about the outcome of qualifying. Latifi was eliminated at the end of the first round and will start on the back row of the grid alongside Haas’ Kevin Magnussen.

“I am quite frustrated as the potential was there to get into Q2,” he said. “We got very unlucky getting caught out by the yellow flag with the Haas so I had to lift for that on my last attempt.

“My lap considering this issue would have been good enough. However, the car was feeling great and we made some good changes overnight and everything was there to get into Q2.

“For sure in the race we will be looking to fight and challenge the other cars.”

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