What George Russell needs to do to lead in Belgium

George Russell’s sensational qualifying lap sees him starting at P2 in Spa; his highest ever starting position in Formula One. Naturally, he has been asked about whether he could lead the race at some point – but in all honesty; could he?

Written by Sam Kift, edited by Janvi Unni

Realistically speaking, the only chance Russell has at leading the race is if he has a really good start, because the Williams car is slightly inferior compared to the RedBull and the Mercedes. There is also one underlining factor that adds complete unpredictability: rain. If there is rain at the start of the race, then there’s no other strategy than to drive to survive. But if it’s dry, then there’s a clear strategy, so let’s take a short view back to the past to to understand it.

David Croft’s “But here comes Sebastian Vettel” is quite well-known in the F1 community (and for good reason), and it is the sequence of events that produced this moment that gives us a clear idea of what George Russell has to do to pass Max Verstappen at the start of the race.

In 2017, Sebastian Vettel had 2 shots at overtaking Lewis Hamilton: once at the start and once after the safety car restart. But he failed to do so both times. What happened was Vettel had gotten such a good slipstream that he had to lift off at Eau Rouge (otherwise he would have rear-ended the Mercedes), and this killed his momentum and was the reason why Vettel only managed to get alongside rather than ahead down the Kemmel straight. In 2018, he was further back and therefore was flat all the way from La Source to Les Combes. He cleared Hamilton halfway down the straight. In 2020, Valtteri Bottas made a similar mistake to Vettel in 2017 at the race start and had to lift significantly – in fact he was almost swamped by Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo behind. Ironically, it was Lewis Hamilton’s slipstream down the straight that prevented this and he kept his 2nd position as he entered Les Combes. This is proof of just how powerful the slipstream can be.

Given that the RedBull is known to be quite draggy and the Mercedes power unit is thought to be superior, a race lead looks promising if George Russell has a reasonable getaway tomorrow.

Therefore if circumstances align and Russell positions his car perfectly, then he might just be able to lead a Formula One race for the second time. We’ll know at 15:00 CEST. Stay tuned, this is a race you definitely don’t want to miss.

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