George Russell says the lap times are deceiving and that he is actually slower than his Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, despite topping both Friday practice sessions at the Sakhir Grand Prix.
In his first official practice sessions for Mercedes as he fills in for Lewis Hamilton — who has COVID-19 — Russell was quickest in FP1 and FP2, edging out Max Verstappen on both occasions. Bottas ended up 11th in the second session after seeing the fastest time of the day deleted for exceeding track limits, and Russell says he can see a clear gap that he needs to close.
“It’s tricky — not an easy track to say the least,” Russell said. “It’s going to be very tight in qualifying; in the race it’s going to be carnage. The next two days are important.
“I’m working with the best in the business. I’m learning every lap in the car. I do think the lap times are a little bit deceiving at the moment and aren’t a true representation of the pace. FP2 was not a great session for me — I struggled, especially in the high fuel and ultimately that’s going to be key on Sunday. Still got a lot of work to do to get comfortable in the car, comfortable in the setup, make some improvements because I think tomorrow is going to be a different story.
“Just because I was quickest today, doesn’t mean that’s where I’m going to be tomorrow. Verstappen was incredibly quick in the long runs, Valtteri was quickest in P2 but he got his lap deleted — he probably only gained half a tenth in all honesty. So I’m a good tenth and a half behind Valtteri in the low fuel. But we’ll see, we’re getting better.”
Russell says there are a number of areas he needs to simply get more comfortable in the car, as he is taking part in the race weekend wearing race boots a size smaller than his feet in order to help him fit, given the fact he is significantly taller than Hamilton.
“I’m pretty battered and bruised already, to be honest. We’ve already gone through what needs to be changed. It’s not the work of a moment, sort of changing the seat here and there. So, working hard with the guys to try and improve for Sunday but I’m sure it will be fine.
“There’s so much to take in and to learn. Lap after lap I’m learning more and more. I’m doing my absolute best to be as prepared as possible but jumping in the car with a day and a half, two days’ notice, it’s tricky. I’m doing my best, it was a good first day, but there’s definitely more to come.”
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It wasn’t just Russell who didn’t feel comfortable at Mercedes on Friday, with Bottas struggling with his car throughout the day.
“For me it was quite a tricky day,” Bottas said. “In the first session I broke the floor of the car in the first run, after I went over the curbs in Turn 8, so there was a big piece missing. Then, the rest of FP1 was a bit of a waste.
“FP2 felt quite OK; obviously I didn’t get any laps on the soft tires, I had one half decent lap but that got deleted, as I went over the track limits, so not really the best day. But at least, the long runs were pretty consistent, although Red Bull, on the medium tire, looked pretty quick.
“It’s been good (working with Russell). Obviously it has been only one day but it has been good. He’s been giving good feedback of the car, and, obviously, if you look at the times, he looks quick.”