Russell qualified 11th for the Portuguese Grand Prix – his best qualifying result for the Williams squad – and ended up just 0.057 seconds adrift of reaching Q3 for the first time with the team.
Williams’ head of vehicle performance, Dave Robson, revealed after qualifying that the team was hoping Russell would benefit from Norris continuing on for one final run down the pitstraight at the end of Q2, after the McLaren had carved ahead of several cars preparing to start their final flying laps in that segment.
Had Russell been able to follow Norris further down the straight, he might have gained enough time in the tow to demote Pierre Gasly out of Q3, but Norris instead pulled into the pits shortly after passing the Williams.
“It would have been a great lift for everybody if we had made it [into Q3],” said Robson. “And we were obviously very close.
“It was a bit disappointing Lando decided to pit, as we thought we were going to get a useful tow off him at the start of George’s timed lap, which might have made the difference.
“But, if we’re being really honest and pragmatic about it with the view for tomorrow, I think P11 is a pretty good starting place with a free choice of tyre and a brand new one to start the race with.
“It’s difficult to know what will have happened in Q3 because a few cars didn’t find time, but I’d imagine that’s conditions and the wind.
“So, it’s hard to imagine we’d have been much further up than P10.
“It would have been great to have got in there, but actually P11 is pretty good and, if we’re there on merit, then we’ve got a good chance [in the race] I think.”
Russell told TV crews after qualifying that he had “the quickest car in a straight line, which will help us to defend or attack”, as he eyes a chance of taking a first points finish with Williams, after he came ninth on his one-off appearance for Mercedes in Bahrain last year.
George Russell, Williams
Photo by: FIA Pool
When asked by Autosport if Williams believes he does have a real chance of exploiting a straightline speed advantage in Sunday’s race, Robson said: “Yeah, I think so.
“Certainly yesterday it was quick in a straight line, and I think typically it was both in Bahrain and in Imola, so that’s quite a good feature of this car.
“[In qualifying] obviously using DRS it was still pretty quick, so hopefully what we saw on Friday will carry over and people haven’t taken a load of drag off their car since, so I think that is true hopefully.
“It will help in that the circuit, because that last corner is flat, so effectively the drag starts kicking in at the exit of Turn 14.
“I think it will be an advantage to both defending and hopefully useful for attacking as well.
“He’s got a big chance. I think yesterday the Aston Martins were quite slow on the straights, so with [Sebastian] Vettel just ahead of us, there’s definitely some opportunity.
“Anything he can get at the start, hopefully he can hang onto on the straights.”