Helmut Marko is not yet convinced by George Russell’s race pace, questioning whether the hype surrounding the new Mercedes driver is “justified”.
After three years of his apprenticeship with Williams, Russell is stepping up to Mercedes this season, replacing Valtteri Bottas as Lewis Hamilton’s team-mate.
The 23-year-old arrives at Mercedes on the back of his best-ever season with Williams, Russell having scored 16 points with four top-10 results.
One of those was even a podium, the driver P2 at the Belgian Grand Prix.
But while the scoresheet says P2, there is more to the story than a maiden podium finish given that the race was a wash-out, two laps done behind the Safety Car.
That meant the race result was actually the timesheet from qualifying, and Saturdays are the one area where without a doubt one can say Russell has shone.
Last season he out-qualified his team-mate Nicholas Latifi 20-2, Russell making four Q3 appearances.
In the races though, the Canadian was more of a match in terms of race pace.
It has Marko questioning whether Russell is deserving of all the hype surrounding his Mercedes arrival.
“Now let’s see what Mr Russell will do at Mercedes and whether the praise he has received in advance is justified,” the Red Bull motorsport advisor told Autorevue. “I want to see that first.
“There’s no discussion in qualifying, he’s sensational there but if you look at his race speed, he wasn’t far ahead of [then Williams team-mate Nicholas] Latifi.”
This is not the first time that Marko has questioned Russell’s ability.
Last year asked if Russell’s signing could benefit Red Bull, the Austrian told Gazzetta dello Sport that would depend on whether the Briton can match Hamilton and take points off his team-mate.
“I first have to see how fast Russell really is,” he said.
“If he can indeed match Hamilton’s speed, that could be an advantage for us.”
Although this year’s championship marks Russell’s first full season as a Mercedes driver, the Briton did make a one-off appearance for the team at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix.
Replacing Hamilton when he tested positive for Covid-19, Russell qualified P2 behind Bottas and was on course to win the grand prix before a nightmare day in the pits for Mercedes robbed him of that opportunity.
He finished P9, scoring an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.