Charles Leclerc, George Russell cast doubt on talk of half-second deficit to Red Bull

Henry Valantine
Max Verstappen, Red Bull RB19 from above. Bahrain, February 2023.

George Russell and Charles Leclerc are unsure of the deficit they may be facing to Red Bull ahead of the season-opening weekend in Bahrain, and both have faith in the upgrade plans their teams have in place for the year ahead.

Red Bull head into the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend as favourites to take victory after a three-day test which saw the RB19 show itself to be both fast and reliable, despite the caveat of engine modes and fuel loads being unknown across the grid.

Both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez have spoken confidently about the team’s prospects this year after getting their first taste of their new machinery, and Mercedes driver Russell admitted the reigning Drivers’ and Constructors’ champions could head into the first weekend of the season “in a league of their own”, with others playing catch-up.

But when speaking to media including ahead of the weekend, Russell said he would be “surprised” to see Red Bull take an advantage as high as half a second per lap over the rest of the field, and has backed his Mercedes team to pull back any deficit, adding the longer gaps between the early rounds of the season will be good opportunities to upgrade the W14.

“I think we saw our development last year was pretty spectacular over the course of the year, I think even the improvements we’re going to probably bring to the car this weekend compared to the test will take us a step closer.

“But as I said, it’s a very unique circuit here in Bahrain, I’ll be surprised if the gaps are that large, but I trust in our team and if we develop at the same rate as we did last year, we’re definitely starting from a higher point.

“But I think the good thing is here there’s not too many races at the start of the season, so it gives us some time to develop in the wind tunnel and back at the factory to fight for when the main bulk of races come.”

As for Leclerc, he thinks any gap to Red Bull is still too soon to judge, with a full weekend’s running in anger not yet done this season, and he and Ferrari will have upgrades of their own to bring to the SF-23 to try and put themselves at the front of the field. recommends

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“I think on the half of a second, it’s still too early to say, and also during testing, depending on what time of the day you are doing the lap times it’s very difficult to judge,” Leclerc added.

“So we’ll wait and see to see how far off we are but having said that, I also believe in my team and in the upgrades that we are bringing.

“We have a few we are bringing in the next few months and it’s positive.”

Additional reporting by Thomas Maher