Elated Mercedes drivers Lewis Hamilton and George Russell said the Formula One championship is alive after qualifying just behind Red Bull’s pole-sitter Max Verstappen at the Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.
Russell will join Verstappen at the front of the grid for Sunday’s race, with seven-times world champion Hamilton third as Mercedes savoured big performance gains at Albert Park after being well off the pace in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
Russell’s fastest lap was a quarter-of-a-second shy of reigning champion Verstappen’s, and his thrill at the car’s showing was even spiked with “a little bit” of disappointment to have missed out on pole.
“We weren’t expecting that, that’s for sure,” a beaming Russell told reporters.
“We’ve got to go for the win. Max is going to be extremely fast, there’s no hiding that. I think it’s difficult to overtake around this circuit so the start, lap one, is going to be vital.
“But, you know, this result today is going to give us a huge amount of confidence -- regardless of what tomorrow brings -- over the course of the next four weeks.
“Because if we can deliver a performance like this with a car that is definitely quite a bit off the pace, (it) shows good promise for when we bring our first upgrade.”
Hamilton’s qualifying was his best result since Sao Paulo in last year’s championship and he said it was “honestly incredible” that Mercedes were breathing down Verstappen’s neck.
Verstappen, meanwhile, will not have Red Bull company at the front of the grid, with team mate Sergio Perez starting at the back after skidding off track and beaching himself in gravel during qualifying.
Hamilton said even with Mercedes’ pace deficit, he and Russell might be able to work together to thwart Verstappen’s hopes of a second win in three races.
“We have to expect they’re going to be a quarter of a second, half a second at least quicker than us,” added the Briton.
“But maybe we can we can just about hold on. Maybe the fact that there’s two of us and only one Red Bull -- maybe with strategy, we can we can apply some pressure to them.”