Despite finishing fastest in both Friday practice sessions at the Sakhir GP, George Russell doesn’t think it was a “true representation”.
The Briton has swapped the lowest ranked car, the Williams FW43, for the fastest car on the grid this weekend as he took over Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes W11 after the seven-time World Champion tested positive for COVID-19.
And going straight to the top of the leaderboard in his opening sessions was a fantastic way to introduce himself, though the ‘Outer Circuit’ being used for the Sakhir GP proved “tricky” to drive.
“Different, tricky, not an easy track to say the least, it’s going to be very tight in quali, in the race it’s going to be carnage,” Russell told reporters in Bahrain.
“So the next two days are important.”
While Russell is a Mercedes junior, he has been fully focused on Williams since joining them in 2019, so it wasn’t easy being thrown in at the deep end with Mercedes.
And while Russell is enjoying his time with the crew so far, clearly displayed by his Friday performance, he doesn’t believe it was a “true representation” of the pecking order.
“I found it good to be honest, working with the best in the business and I’m learning so much every single lap in the car,” he said.
“I do think my lap times are a little bit deceiving at the moment, and aren’t a true representation of the pace.
“I thought FP2 was not a great session for me, I struggled especially on the high-fuel and ultimately that’s going to be key on Sunday.
“So I’ve still got a lot of work to do to get comfortable in the car, get comfortable with the setup, make some improvements, because I think tomorrow is going to be a different story.”
Russell is one of the taller drivers on the grid, almost four inches taller than Hamilton, so driving his car is proving to be a tight squeeze.
In FP1 he was complaining of some pain in his shoulder.
“I’m pretty battered and bruised already to be honest,” he admitted.
“We’ve already gone through what needs to change, it’s not a work of a moment sort of change of the seat here and there, so I’m working hard with the guys to try and improve that for Sunday. But I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
One-lap pace has never really been an issue for Russell, the driver now known as Mr Saturday for his ability to consistently outperform the Williams in qualifying.
But right now he is still working hard to understand all of the procedures which he needs to learn to get the best out of the W11, while he also said his starts are nowhere near “Lewis Hamilton level” yet.
“Absolutely not to be honest,” he replied when asked if he was on top of everything he needed to know about the W11.
“There’s so much to take in, to learn, and lap after lap I’m just learning more and more and I’m doing my absolute best to be as prepared as possible, but jumping in the car with a day-and-a-half, two day’s notice is tricky.
“So I’m doing my best, it was a good first day, but there is definitely work to be done.
“Race starts they are okay, improving, they’re not Lewis Hamilton level to say the least but they’re getting better.
“So again loads of practice tonight sat in the car just trying modifying clutch paddles to try and suit my fingers a bit more, like I say there is so much I do need to get on top of and I’ve got such a short period of time to do that.
“So I think we’re in for a long night.”
That's a wrap for Friday practice under the lights! ✨💪
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) December 4, 2020
Despite Russell and also Mercedes boss Toto Wolff keeping expectations in check, is there a chance that Russell’s Friday performance has set the bar too high ahead of qualifying?
“I some ways yeah, just because I was quickest today doesn’t mean that’s where I’m going to be tomorrow,” said the Briton.
“[Max] Verstappen was incredibly quick in the long runs, Valtteri [Bottas] was quickest in FP2 but he got his lap deleted, he probably only gained half a tenth in all honesty.
“So I’m probably a good tenth-and-a-half behind Valtteri in the low-fuel.”