Paul di Resta is expecting George Russell to qualify on the front row on his Mercedes debut and says the Brit could easily take pole.
With Lewis Hamilton testing positive for COVID-19, Russell is to replace him for the Sakhir Grand Prix, driving the W11 for the first time.
Many feel that he is more deserving of a seat at Mercedes than Valtteri Bottas, and this will the first time a direct comparison will be able to be made between the two.
Di Resta sees it as the fight for who will be the second driver at the team in the future and thinks that Russell should be pushing the Finn close at the least.
“Honestly, when you look at it and you see what Hulkenberg did when he stood in this year, you’d expect him to line up on the front row. He could very easily qualify in P1,” he said on Sky Sports.
“This is where Valtteri’s got to make a stamp because this is the fight. Who is going to be the No 2 at Mercedes?
“The expectation going into a seven-time world champion’s car… it’s a very decent ask. He’s not having a test first, what he’s doing is going straight into where Lewis has left off.
“George has done an excellent job in qualifying, he has absolutely excelled. What we haven’t seen is how he manages with leadership, and the pressure at Mercedes. But he’s definitely in the best car.
“I think he’ll be very professional. He’s at a good age, he’s got a number of people supporting him, especially right at the top. He’s in a great position to make an impression.”
Russell will be one of three stand-in drivers at the upcoming race, with Jack Aitken deputising for him at Williams and Pietro Fittipaldi for Romain Grosjean at Haas.
Mercedes sim-driver Anthony Davidson says that there’s far more pressure on him than the other two.
“This is the car that everyone dreams of being in: The Mercedes, the car that Lewis dominates the world in,” he said.
“It’s not good enough to be fast, and show your lap times, you have to have a bit of luck and timing on your side as well. This is George’s chance.
“There’s a clear difference between Pietro Fittipaldi jumping in for Romain Grosjean, or Jack Aitken at Williams, this weekend.
“There’s low expectations on those guys, while George – despite being in a bad car at the back of the grid – he comes with the expectation of having to deliver because he has delivered in a Williams before. Now he’ll be expected to deliver in a Mercedes.
“The reference of Bottas stays for George, so it will be fascinating to see how George gets on against that known quantity in Bottas.”