MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Formula One rookie George Russell had a smile on his face after his first qualifying session with Williams in Australia on Saturday, even if the once-great team had little to be happy about.
As predicted, after being slowest in testing, the struggling former world champions were last on the season-opening starting grid with Britain’s Russell 19th and Polish team mate Robert Kubica 20th.
Kubica, preparing for his first grand prix since 2010 as part of an amazing comeback from partially severing his right forearm in a 2011 rally crash, hit the wall and punctured a tyre on his last flying lap.
Even without that, the third most successful team in Formula One on race wins would have struggled to do much better.
Russell, last year’s Formula Two champion, was more than 1.2 seconds slower than McLaren’s 18th placed Spaniard Carlos Sainz, whose qualifying was affected by Kubica’s blowout.
“I enjoyed it. Obviously I would have liked to have been there a bit longer but we know the pace of the car and my job is to go out there and drive the package we’ve got as fast as possible,” the Briton told Sky Sports television.
“I really believe we did that. The three laps I put together were really good, I felt. I crossed the line with a smile on my face.”
Russell said beating Kubica for 19th place was hardly a priority, with the main focus being to get the team back on the right track after a woeful 2018 season and late start to testing with the car not ready in time.
He said, without giving details, that the car had a ‘fundamental problem’ that would take months to fix.
Williams are without a formal technical director after Paddy Lowe, the man ultimately responsible for the car, went on a ‘leave of absence’ just before the team flew to Australia.
“We have no interest in fighting for last,” said Russell, 21. “I think we understand our limitations. We know the issues, but it doesn’t mean we can wake up tomorrow and fix it.
“It’s going to take time to rebuild what we need to. Unfortunately this is where we are going to be for a couple of races to come.”
Kubica, who tested last year’s car and can compare the two, was reluctant to predict any time frame for improvements.
“I don’t want to put numbers because last year I think we knew even earlier what was the fundamental problem of the car and for the whole year it stayed more or less the same,” commented the Pole.
“I hope it will take only two or three months but I cannot say, I don’t know.”
Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Amlan Chakraborty and Christian Radnedge