‘They’ve been so fast since China’ – George Russell picks out non-Red Bull Imola GP favourites

Henry Valantine
George Russell during practice at Imola.

George Russell felt better behind the wheel of his upgraded Mercedes at Imola.

Mercedes driver George Russell believes McLaren, not Red Bull or Ferrari, are favourites to take victory at Imola this weekend after a promising practice showing.

Oscar Piastri was second behind Charles Leclerc in FP2, while Lando Norris looked on to set a quicker time in qualifying simulations before running wide at the second Rivazza corner and having to abort his representative run at the final moment.

George Russell: McLaren the favourites at Imola

Both Russell and Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton got themselves into the top five in FP2 in a session that saw the teams trial their qualifying set-ups for a lap of Imola.

The Red Bull duo of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez appeared to struggle as they finished down in P7 and P8 respectively come the end of the session, and Russell praised the improved feel of the W15 on Friday as his running came to an end.

But despite that, he believes McLaren are the team to beat this weekend, with their tranche of upgrades in Miami appearing to work to their benefit as Lando Norris earned his maiden grand prix victory.

“The car’s feeling great today and I think Lewis and I have both had a really good feeling behind the wheel, which was really nice,” Russell said after the session.

“We look reasonably competitive, slightly closer than we showed in Miami.

“I’m sure everybody will find out come qualifying where we truly stand.

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“I think McLaren are still probably looking the favourites at the moment and probably the quickest again. They’ve been so fast since China.

“Nevertheless, the team have done a great job to bring these new parts to the car and it’s a step forward.

As for Mercedes, Russell heaped praise on his own team for how they were able to fast-track bringing their own new parts to Imola this weekend ahead of schedule.

Team principal Toto Wolff said they are embarking on a direction which they hope will “bear fruit” in the coming races, and the British driver thinks there were positive signs coming out of Friday’s practice sessions at Imola.

“The team have been working so hard to bring these parts sooner than they probably ordinarily would have been coming,” Russell said.

“That’s so great to see the motivation within the team, and everyone’s just pushing forward even though we’ve had a tough couple of races.

“Everybody wants to make this better, everybody wants to improve and the car was feeling really good today.

“So we’ll find out tomorrow where we end up in the pecking order. It looks pretty close, it’s obviously a short lap around here, so I’m sure it’s going to be fine margins.”

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