Russell expects Mercedes to improve at Imola

Jon Wilde
George Russell

George Russell

George Russell thinks the weather conditions in Bahrain suited Red Bull more than Mercedes – whose cars should be favoured by less-windy Imola.

The Briton knows what it is like to drive a Mercedes in a Bahrain race, for he did so at last year’s Sakhir Grand Prix when called up to replace the unwell Lewis Hamilton and may have won but for a pit-stop botched by the team and a subsequent puncture.

The consecutive seven-time World Champions began their bid for an eighth title with a Hamilton victory in the 2021 season-opener, but only by a tiny margin from Red Bull’s Max Verstappen with Mercedes boss Toto Wolff saying “the racing gods were with us”.

Red Bull are generally regarded as having made a big step forward this year which has potentially put them ahead of Mercedes on performance, but Russell does not think Bahrain shows off the W12 car to the best effect.

Although a sandstorm forecast for Sunday’s race did not materialise, the Williams driver, who finished 14th, believes the desert gusts do not bring the best out of the Mercedes – and that the next race, at Imola on April 18, should.

George Russell Williams

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“Mercedes may have suffered more this weekend,” said the 23-year-old, quoted by Motorsport-total and who is a strong contender to race for the World Champions in the future, potentially even next year.

“Red Bull were more competitive than the rest of the field. It was very windy – it always is here – gusts were blowing at 50kmh and the track is very open with a lot of slow corners.

“Imola is very different from Bahrain with fast corners and a lot of trees and houses next to the track, so it’s protected more from the wind.”

Russell had feared Williams would also struggle in the Bahrain wind and that was borne out, for they looked to be clearly the ninth fastest team with only Haas behind them – as might have been expected.

Nevertheless, the 23-year-old has high hopes that Williams, who have finished last in the World Championship for the past three seasons, will be more competitive elsewhere.

“This is the car we have and we ran the race very well, to be honest,” said Russell, who also felt his middle stint before his second tyre stop had been one lap too long.

“Unfortunately, I lost three seconds as a result,” he added. “But that didn’t change our bottom line. Given our pace and the conditions, we had a very decent weekend.

“It will be a bit of a yo-yo season but I’d like to think this was worst case scenario.”

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