[Russell says “strange” Suzuka surface causing massive F1 tyre degradation
The Mercedes driver said that the opening day of practice on Friday had been a puzzling one, as there was so little grip on offer.
Speaking after ending second practice in fifth spot for Mercedes, 0.6 seconds adrift of pace-setter Max Verstappen, Russell said that it had not been a normal day of action.
He suggested that the asphalt, which includes newly laid sections through Turns 3, 4 and 7, was not behaving as anticipated.
“There seems to be a huge amount of tyre degradation,” he said. “It’s really weird in Suzuka.
“It is one of the best tracks in the world to drive, but this year it feels like the tarmac has really broken up and the cars are sliding on top of the surface.
“It’s given a bit of a strange feeling to all the drivers out there, and that’s what’s contributing towards that tyre degradation.”
With Pirelli bringing the hardest of its compounds to Japan, low degradation could have moved it towards a one-stop.
Russell thinks at the moment that, while he anticipates it eventually rubbering up enough to be a two-stopper, there is potential for it to need even more than that.
“Definitely, when we go to tracks like Jeddah, or Melbourne, on this newer Tarmac, it is really high grip,” he said. “Even in Singapore in the new section, it was really fun for drivers to drive on and it doesn’t offer much tyre degradation.
“Here, the tyre degradation looks probably closer to a three-stop at the moment than it is a one-stop, to put some perspective on it. But I think it will be a two-stop for everybody on Sunday. We will see what happens.”
George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
Russell was not too downbeat about the performance of his Mercedes car, which seems to be in the middle of the chasing pack behind Red Bull.
“It was a half reasonable day, to be honest,” he said. “Red Bull are back to the normal ways, which I don’t think is a major surprise. For many, they seem very, very quick.
“We’re not too far from P2. I think there are two tenths in it. So it’s going to be a good fight between Ferrari and Lando [Norris]. But also, you’ve got cars like Alex [Albon] up there, as you often see in qualifying.”
Russell’s positivity was in contrast to team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who had a far more difficult day as he felt not much had gone right.
“A bad day, to be honest,” said Hamilton, after he ended up 14th in the afternoon. “A real struggle out there. A long way off: two seconds off in the first session, over a second off in the second. So it’s working away, trying to fix the car, fix the balance.”
Hamilton said with the W14 having shown itself to not be too good in high-speed corners this year, there was little hope of a repeat of the strong form it showed at Singapore last weekend.
“It’s an area where we need to work on, getting the car in a bit more of a sweet spot and not overheating our tyres as much,” he explained.
“But we’ll work on it overnight and try to turn it around for tomorrow. But we definitely won’t be winning this weekend.”