Beating Red Bull to victory in the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix “will be a stretch” for Mercedes, according to George Russell.
Max Verstappen clocked up over 150 laps on the first day of testing and set the fastest time, while on day two he was second overall to Zhou Guanyu who had completed a late flying lap on soft tires. Given the reliability and pace shown by Red Bull, Russell says he’s realistic about how quickly Mercedes can challenge for wins this season.
“You definitely head into the season believing,” Russell said. “Every point of my career, I’ve always gone in believing, but you need to take a rational view once you get to the track and you learn. We definitely believe eventually we will have a car capable of having that fight. Whether we’re going to have that next weekend in Bahrain, I think may be a bit of a stretch.
“They look very strong, very stable — the car is looking really strong and obviously Max performing really well. I think realistically, it will be a stretch for next week, but there’s no reason why eventually we can’t get there at some point this year, and we’ve always seen the strength of Mercedes and their development rate. So definitely, the belief is there.”
Russell was speaking before he stopped on track with a hydraulics issue and had his own running curtailed, but he is at least confident Mercedes has a more stable car than this time a year ago.
“Definitely in terms of feeling, it feels like a step in the right direction. But as we know in this sport, it’s not always about feeling. It’s ultimately about lap time. I think comparing it to this time 12 months ago, things are running a lot smoother. When we were here last year, there were a lot of alarm bells ringing. We had the porpoising, we were unsure how to solve it — a bit lost. The car characteristics were not good.
“The entry phase has been improved. It’s no secret when you’re watching the onboards and the videos that we are struggling a little bit with the balance, struggling mid-corner. But I think it’s a balance that is easier to solve than we had last year. Even though it’s still a limitation, I think it’s a good problem to have.”