Wolff set Russell target of ‘top four’ in quali

Jamie Woodhouse

George Russell Sakhir incident prompts change to tyre rule.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said he had told George Russell that qualifying in the top four for the Sakhir GP would have been “fantastic”.

The Briton is making his Mercedes debut this weekend as a replacement for Lewis Hamilton who tested positive for coronavirus prior to the Sakhir Grand Prix.

And in his first qualifying session with the Silver Arrows Russell was on fine form, finishing only 0.02s behind team-mate Valtteri Bottas as Mercedes locked out the front row.

“It’s a good result for the team, one and two, front-row lockout at a circuit with less than a minute lap time which is always going to provide very close gaps,” Wolff told Sky F1.

“You can see less than a tenth between P1 and P3, so I’m happy with the result.”

Wolff said Russell has settled in to the team well, and considering the fact he was told that “top four” on the grid would have been fantastic, P2 is a phenomenal achievement.

Perhaps Wolff’s pre-quali chat with the Briton where he was told that the pressure was off did the trick.

“It’s quite interesting because they are such different characters, Lewis obviously has been there for a long time, has so much experience, is a clam composed guy, and George is equally calm but he’s much more chatty,” said Wolff.

“So you’re like ‘oh, this is different’. He’s quite serious, you would think he is a finance guy.

“But he’s settled in well, he doesn’t really fit into the car. I think he’s settled in well considering the circumstances. The track is new for everybody and so I’m happy with his performance.

“We had a good chat at lunch with James Vowles [Mercedes’ chief strategist] and it was about really to take all pressure off.

“I said to him [Russell] ‘if you end up in the first four, second row of the grid that is already a fantastic result. If a McLaren or a Ferrari jumps you and it’s P5 then it’s equally great, nothing more is expected’.

“And I felt that he was walking off a little bit with more easiness.”

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Wolff said he has been keeping in touch with Hamilton, but didn’t want to ask him how he felt today since it would have already been hard enough just to see his car being driven by Russell.

“Quite a lot of support, we’ve been texting all the time and obviously it’s very difficult for a racing driver to be in a hotel room with corona while seeing his car drive,” he said.

“But he was very professional. I haven’t asked him how he felt today because I think it’s a painful reminder all the time that you are in bed.”

Asked if Hamilton could return for Abu Dhabi, Wolff replied: “Yeah I think there is all the chance if he tests negative, we all hope he is going to be in the car in Abu Dhabi and everything is back to normal business.”

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