‘A kind of freestyling starts’: Toto Wolff on Lewis Hamilton and George Russell’s performance

Sir Lewis Hamilton and George Russell salvaged a strong qualifying from a tough weekend so far in Le Castellet.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff was overall disappointed with his team’s qualifying performance at the French Grand Prix, but lauded a brilliant lap from Sir Lewis Hamilton to take fourth.

Having come into the weekend with expectations on them to challenge Ferrari and Red Bull, the Silver Arrows have spent much of the weekend running around over a second off the pace of Ferrari and Red Bull, and things did not improve going into qualifying.

Both Hamilton and team-mate George Russell looked in danger towards the end of Q2 of being knocked out, but they made it into the top 10, before the seven-time champion did what he does and pulled out a splendid lap to go fourth.

Russell ended up sixth as the McLaren of Lando Norris slipped in between the two Mercedes drivers so, after what was looking like a concerning weekend, the German side will line up strongly for Sunday’s race.

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However, the performance of the car is still nowhere near where Wolff wants it to be, as evidenced by the fact that Hamilton was nine tenths of a second behind polesitter Charles Leclerc.

“I think that we knew that once we got the new tyres on and that we are driving the car in anger a little bit that we’re going to be there as a third force like we’ve been all season,” he told Sky Sports.

“But it’s just not good enough, you can see that when you’re a little bit on the back foot, your expectations are on a certain level for the race weekend, and it doesn’t come together, a kind of freestyling starts. 

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“With us, it was mainly experimenting with rear wing levels and also tyre temperatures, but at the end, the overall package is just not quick enough and we can see that.”

Hamilton’s career-long trend of pulling a rabbit out of the hat continued on Saturday, but the team boss conceded that the 37-year-old is pushing the car further than it is realistically capable of going.

“Immense job,” stated Wolff.

“With [Carlos] Sainz there it’s P5 but still a great, great job.

“He probably has extracted more than the car has at the moment.” 

Sainz will start P19 after he was forced to take a grid penalty for changing engine parts due to his retirement at the Austrian Grand Prix.

The Spaniard’s fiery exit from the race enabled Hamilton to take his third consecutive podium in Spielberg.