This weekend Williams driver will replace George Russell Lewis Hamilton in the Mercedes for an interview for the 2022 World Championship, which is considered the last full time interview. The first session on his home circuit went well with the second on the grid, but how close was he to further improvement?
When Formula 1 works on the timing of the evening races, the food moves with the sessions, so it is perfectly normal to have breakfast in the afternoon, lunch in the evening and dinner around midnight. That’s why George Russell had lunch in Bahrain on Saturday night at 19.00 with Mercedes team manager Toto Wolff and head strategist James Wolves.
He had just finished his last training session in the Sakhir Grand Prix on Sunday and seemed a bit uninhibited. After both practice sessions on Friday he finished the one hour session on Saturday in seventh place, almost 0.4 seconds behind his teammate Valteri Bottas, who was the fastest in general.
It was clear that Bottas was not in top form during Friday’s practice due to a car accident and that he had to focus on next year, but already during the last practice session on Saturday he started to gain momentum and shake hands with his new teammate.
Meanwhile, Russell’s a little lost. With a new car under his command he started to learn the settings and driving style this weekend, but the car and the stopwatch didn’t respond as well as expected. Suddenly the scope of the task begins to lighten, and the pace of his teammate seems frightening.
I may have stopped analyzing, Russell confessed after qualifying Saturday night. Yesterday I just jumped and drove and it worked, but today I tried to get a little bit here and there and then I think about it too much and try too hard to get more. I came from FP3 and I said I had to lie down, relax, breathe, get in the car and drive.
Fault! The file name is not specified. George Russell beats his teammate Walteri Bottas after qualifying. Mario Rienzi – Formula 1 from Getty Images
Wolf felt the tension in his driver after the training and took the opportunity to reformulate his expectations.
We had a good discussion at lunch with James Walls, and it was really to take the pressure off, he said. I told him it would still be a great result if you were on the top four places, that’s on the second row of the grid.
If McLaren or Ferrari jumps on you and you’re a P5, that’s just as great, there is nothing else planned.
I had the impression he left a little easier after that.
Encouraging words worked and in the last session of the qualifying session Russell finished second with a time of just 0.023 seconds from Bottas on pole position.
Due to the short lap distance from Bahrain, the lap time was still surprisingly close, but even in percentage terms Russell’s speed was 0.049% of Bottas’ time. Looking to the future, the following regular Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Bottas, took part in the Silverstone Grand Prix in August, with Hamilton 0.074% behind Bottas.
Anyway, Russell was surprisingly fast and came close to pole position in his first car racing session.
What was the quality of Bottas’ circle?
Fault! The file name is not specified. Cleve Mason – Formula 1/ Formula 1 with Getty Images
Of course, Russell’s performance – like all the other drivers on the grid – is only in relation to his teammate. The uniform of the bottom seems to have fallen during the last races of its peak in the middle of summer. Was this the case when Russell at best came close to Bottas or another average Finnish?
It is clear that Bottas didn’t do a clean lap in the last session of the qualifying session. His best time was set in the second of three races in the third period and his last attempt, which was generally the fastest, was 0.008 seconds slower than the last lap of Russell, who was also the fastest.
However, if you add Bottas’ three fastest sectors to his last two attempts, he would have a potentially fastest lap of 53.31, or 0.093 seconds, not counting Russell’s best lap.
It is also worth mentioning that Bottas did not benefit from pushing the car forward, which was a clear bonus for some drivers. The Finn had the choice to go ahead or behind his team mate (Mercedes alternates with the drivers every race weekend), so he could choose second place and drag Russell if he wanted to.
In fact he chose a clear path for himself and probably lost some time making a hole in the sky in straight stretches.
In short, the circle of Bottas was clearly not as good as it could be.
I’m a little disappointed in myself, Bottas said after the session. In the end I couldn’t improve my lap time, but I was also the only car without evacuation.
The circle wasn’t that good, so I couldn’t improve the last run.
Of course I’m very happy to stand on a pole, and in the end you can’t make much difference on a track like this, so the distances are very small, as you can see.
But I have to say that George did very well, he built it, I’ve seen progress in the selection, so I’m very happy for us as a team that we can have one or two on the grid. This is another great success for us.
Could Russell’s circle have been better?
Fault! The file name is not specified. George Russell missed the pole position by 0.026 seconds. Mario Rienzi – Formula 1/Formula 1 on Getty Images.
Hamilton often says that there is no such thing as a perfect lap, so there is room for improvement in every qualifying lap in the history of Formula One.
But in Russell’s case there were two free zones where he lost and both could have been enough to only take pole position if they were corrected.
But before we go into the finer points of the 53-second circle, it should be noted that – looking back on his first weekend in the car – second place on the grid was a very remarkable achievement for the 22-year-old.
The first mistake occurred in the first corner, which was a problem for Russell throughout practice.
Turn 1 was my most limiting turn and I fought there all week, he told Sky Sports and analyzed my turn after the session. I had a little understeer at the top before I turned the wheel at the exit.
It cost me a bit [he said you could see a click on the screen from the arrogant rotation], it was a pole position here.
The problem is due to differences in behavior between the Williams, which Russell drove all last week at the Bahrain Grand Prix and which is one of the slowest cars on the grid, and the Mercedes, which is the best car on the grid.
Although the track layout was different this week, the first corner was no different at all from the Bahrain Grand Prix, and Russell fought to get the best out of the Mercedes to make the most of its enormous potential.
The driving style I took at Williams last week, where I was strong, didn’t work and it was very different from the Valtterie style, very different from what Lewis did, he said. I think the Mercedes just has much more grip and much more front end, so I might have been able to go a little faster, but it was difficult.
It’s just another way to drive. I am very impressed with the engineers I work with, the way they have tried to show me how I can improve.
The level of this team is absolutely unbelievable. You’ve really helped me improve the little things. Not yet, it’s obviously a strange trip, just a day in the car, but yes, luckily.
The second factor was the already mentioned wake. As the second car on the track, Russell was able to take advantage of the Bottas, but when he finished his Dodger, he left his teammate too much room to take full advantage of the tow.
I think I left too many, to be honest. Actually, I was looking in the mirrors in the last corner, I thought Max [staggering from behind] was going to dive into me in the last corner to try to slide in front of me, so I was, I think, 40 milliseconds back in the first corner.
I think the wind must have changed, so of course it would have hit Waltery. So, if I was two seconds closer [to Bottas], maybe I could get free passage.
Life and corn, carrots and nuts, huh?
The biggest problem remains to be solved.
Fault! The file name is not specified. Waltery Bottas has just taken pole position for teammate George Russell. GIUSEPPE CACACE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
As impressive as Russell’s qualifying performance was, the biggest challenge for him will be the 87-laps race at Sakhir Grand Prix on Sunday evening. He starts on the dirty side of the radiator grill and has trouble holding his position. It also has to do with the problem of the clutch blade being too small for the fingers of the steering wheel, making a smooth start very difficult to achieve.
Mercedes did everything possible to make her hair comfortable in the car, but at 1.80m Russell isn’t comfortable in the cockpit, which is designed to fit comfortably in the 1.80m Hamilton. He also wears shoes that are too small for him to keep his height of 3 meters out of the opening, so that his toes are shattered to make them a size 10.
There is no doubt that he will come out of Sunday’s race beaten and physically weakened.
Luckily for Russell he took some of the pressure off and left an impression on the team. From that moment on, everything, whether it’s points, the finish, the podium or the victory, will be just a huge bonus.
It’s easier for George because there’s no pressure and he has nothing to lose, Wolf said.
It’s true, I expected the same from him – he confirmed what we thought of him.
We’re impressed, but not surprised.
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