Mercedes’ George Russell is convinced Red Bull are in a league of their own ahead of this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix and expects the battle for second in the season opener to be between Ferrari and Aston Martin.
Despite finding a solution to the porpoising problem that blighted their 2022 campaign, Mercedes are expected to start the 2023 season slightly adrift from the leading pack after an inconsistent showing in the only pre-season test.
Russell, who previously warned it would be a “stretch” to imagine Mercedes winning in Bahrain, expects Red Bull to pick up where they left off after a dominant 2022 season in which the Constructors’ Champions won all but five races – and believes Ferrari and a rejuvenated Aston Martin, not Mercedes, will emerge as their closest challengers at Sakhir.
Appearing in Thursday’s FIA press conference, he told media, including PlanetF1.com: “I think it probably wasn’t the smoothest three days we could have hoped for, but I think the lessons we learned from the test, I went back to the UK I was on the simulator, the learnings and findings we found, I think is going to put us in better stead for this weekend.
“But I think it’s definitely fair to say Red Bull are in a bit of a league of their own this weekend here in Bahrain, but I think it will probably be a nice fight for second place – probably between Ferrari and Aston Martin.”
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With Mercedes set to introduce a revised rear wing for the season opener, the team are hopeful of revealing more pace this weekend than in testing and Russell is hopeful that the Silver Arrows will have plenty of scope for improvement over the course of the campaign.
He added: “The mood in camp is good. It was a good test, we learned a lot. I think we learned that Red Bull are looking really, really strong, but equally we feel like we’ve got a lot of room that we can improve.
“We’ve probably brought a little bit more pace this weekend after the marathons of testing, but it’s going to be for sure a challenge and difficult to try and fight for that victory at first. We probably knew that ahead of the season starting off properly.
“I think the fact is we’ll find out this weekend where we’ve fallen out. I think testing is obviously a good indication for all of us, but the fact is until we get to qualify and get to race we’ll have no idea.
“Some teams were surprising how their performance was, I think some teams were very fast on a single lap, some teams were faster in the long run, but I think it’s important to remember that we all try and design a car that’s fastest across the 23-race season and Bahrain is definitely a bit of an outlier.
“So I don’t think the picture of this weekend will be the full picture for the whole season.”
Additional reporting by Thomas Maher