George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2020

Mercedes told Russell top six in qualifying would be “fine”

2020 Sakhir Grand Prix

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Mercedes told George Russell a top-six result in qualifying would be satisfactory for his first weekend in the car.

Russell, who is substituting for Lewis Hamilton this weekend, put his car on the front row of the grid, lapping just two-hundredths of a second slower than team mate Valtteri Bottas.

Russell described how team principal Toto Wolff and chief strategist James Vowles reassured him over their expectations before qualifying.

“Everyone at Mercedes – Toto, James – said just go out, enjoy it, there’s zero expectations on you,” said Russell. “[They said] if Lewis were to jump in a Williams then it would be difficult, so we’re not expecting anything from you and if you qualify first two rows, top five, top six then fine, you can still get a podium from there.”

Wolff told Sky that Russell seemed more relaxed after their conversation: “I said to him if you end up in the first four, second row of the grid, that’s already a fantastic result. If a McLaren or Ferrari jumps you and you’re fifth, it’s equally great. Nothing more is expected. And I felt that he was walking off with a little more easiness.”

Comfort within the cockpit of the W11 remains a problem for Russell, who is around 11 centimetres taller than Hamilton, and has had difficulty fitting into the world champion’s smaller car.

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“Comfort-wise, it’s still not perfect,” Russell admitted after his second day in the W11. “I’m very bruised and sore.

“It’s going to be quite a long, fatiguing race tomorrow if you’re not comfortable in the car. I had ice on my shoulders last night to reduce some swelling, and my knees and toes. But when the car’s so fast you forget about all the pain.”

Russell is still also adapting to the Mercedes’ controls, and revealed he accidentally put his car into neutral at one point.

“This car’s just completely different,” he said. “I’m learning all the new procedures, learning new buttons.

“First practice was a mess. I was pressing the wrong buttons, even in qualifying I pressed neutral at one point instead of something else. It’s difficult when you’re in such a routine – for me, down at Williams, you don’t even think about these things, it just naturally happens.

“We’ve tried to modify as many things as physically possible just to make things easier for me. It’s been a lot of work and it still takes a bit of time, it takes a couple of races just to understand that.”

“So, Toto, a few more races please and I’ll be there!” he added.

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Dieter Rencken
Dieter Rencken has held full FIA Formula 1 media accreditation since 2000, during which period he has reported from over 300 grands prix, plus...
Keith Collantine
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26 comments on “Mercedes told Russell top six in qualifying would be “fine””

  1. Seeing him ask about how to put the car in zero again at the end of Q3 was a good indicator of how much details there are to learn about these cars.

    And yeah, qualifying in the top 4, or even top 6 would have been a satisfactory result. But off course Russel doesn’t want to just satisfy. He wants, probably needs (since he is a racer who strives to be on top) to do a lot better than that.

    Good to tell him this non the less, it shows again how Mercedes know how to work with drivers to get them to perform. And yeah, Russel did the job well enough with qualifying.

  2. The contrast between how Merc manages their young drivers and how Red Bull manages their young drivers is startling. Horner and Marko could learn a thing or two from this.

    1. Im sure if he had been there an entire season (like Albon) they would be expecting a bit more

    2. @blazzz

      Over one third of the grid (7/20) are Red Bull juniors. They are by far the most successful driver academy on the grid. Mercedes doesn’t come close.

      1. McDonald’s is a successful brand with many restaurants, doesn’t mean they prepare delicious food.

        1. @gufdamm

          Vettel is a 4 time world champion, Ricciardo and Verstappen have won numerous races, Gasly is a race winner, and Sainz/Albon/Kvyat all have numerous podiums to their name.

          Red Bull haven’t just produced quantity, evidently they’ve produced quality as well.

      2. Seb Vettel, Sainz, Kvyat, Gasly, Albon, Ricciaro. Who else did I miss? Max was no RB Junior. They just signed them when they trumped Mercedes with the offer of getting a car right away @kingshark.

        Also, how many of those drivers are now driving for someone else. Yes, their program did support a lot of very talented drivers. And a decent chunk of them made it to F1. But is that about a good academy or just about signing on just about any talent they can sign up due to having a lot of money available?

        1. Actually verstappen started with toro rosso before going to red bull, if driving toro rosso is not being a red bull junior I don’t know what is!

          1. @esploratore He wasn’t from the RB program

    3. I don’t see how in any way does this look good on mercedes. Let’s do a simple comparison @blazzz.

      Be young Red Bull driver coming into f1:
      – guaranteed seat at alpha tauri in f1
      – guaranteed seat at red bull if you do well at alpha tauri
      – alpha tauri is a quick car, solid mid fielder, driver can show what he can do
      – that is combined 4 seats in f1, plus testing opportunities
      – ongoing specials: can drive second fastest car in f1 after just one season at alpha tauri
      – red bull does not hold you hostage if you want to switch to non-merc team (see sainz)
      – as many energy drinks you can carry

      Be young Mercedes driver coming into f1:
      – drive williams that is so slow you may struggle to stay employed in f1 if williams wants to replace you with a pay driver
      – no career progression even if you are doing great and are managed by mercedes (see ocon).
      – young drivers held as hostage. Do you like sabbaticals?
      – special deal, we talked to williams, they’ll honor your contract, for now
      – in the end everything is about dealing and wheeling, every opportunity might not happen and generally everything relies on something else that is not your performances
      – that being said they have the two best seats in f1, ever

      1. @socksolid
        – guaranteed seat at alpha tauri in f1
        WRONG!
        – guaranteed seat at red bull if you do well at alpha tauri
        WRONG!
        – alpha tauri is a quick car, solid mid fielder, driver can show what he can do
        CORRECT!
        – red bull does not hold you hostage if you want to switch to non-merc team (see sainz)
        WRONG! They ruined plenty of careers due to their hostage holding. Sainz is the only exception.
        – as many energy drinks you can carry
        That’s just nasty.

        1. Oh and Mercedes also placed drivers with Force India. Drivers were not “held hostage” they were refused by Horner (who wasn’t looking for a driver anyway)

  3. Does anyone not wish Russell to win the race tomorrow?
    It might be one of those rare times, that everyone are rooting for the same guy!

    1. I wouldn’t mind russel nor verstappen winning, since they both have a rare chance, verstappen to have the strongest mercedes driver not race and russel to race a great instead of a horrible car.

  4. A perfect fit in the car is definitely worth 27 milliseconds. Amazing performance from Russell. The race will be more concerning in that regard. I expect Verstappen to beat him easily.

  5. Get in there George

  6. Russell did very well. I think he will be the perfect under-study to Hamilton and hopefully ensure a smooth transition for both Mercedes and British driving talent.

    Easy to see why Bottas is disappointed he wasn’t further ahead. He must realise the better Russell does, the more obvious a decision it will be to replace him. Frankly, if I was Mercedes, I’d put Russell in the Merc alongside Hamilton for next season. You need to learn from the best, to become truly great. Next year would be the perfect opportunity, as a transition into the new regulations.

    1. If Russell were introduced next season, a year ahead of the changed regulations, this would see Mercedes coming full circle. I recall Hamilton was the new guy, a year ahead of the new hybred era.

      All in all , it looks like Russell exceeded expectation, either that or Mercedes were being super conservative when they gave Russell that leaway of sixth place.

  7. Shows what a great team this is

  8. A perfect example of what I think F1 should ultimately be:
    With 10 teams and 20 races each driver should drive for each team twice per season.
    With more races, say 24, we could have more drivers, say 24 competing with each driving 20 races.
    That would reduce the amount of traveling each driver would do each year.
    This would allow every driver to compete in the same cars over the season. A true champion would emerge.
    It would also mean that each team would have the same drivers as any other team.
    Drivers pay would be based on last years results. Paid from a joint FIA fund contributed to by the teams based on their last year finishing positions.
    The FIA could have a list of backup drivers who could substitute (deputize) when needed. And take part regularly on Fridays on a random basis.
    If each driver was to only race in 20 of the 24 races, the FIA would determine the starting order based on either random order or a more complicated system where drivers were assured to start their home race and other factors. Perhaps the season would be divided into 4 quarters and each driver would drive 5 of the 6 in each quarter.
    What do you think?

    1. Drivers are not a problem, they would do 50 races. It is the hard working men and women that work round the clock traveling around the world.

      1. Agree fully;
        But Lewis did complain about next year’s long schedule.

  9. Verstappen was .4 away on his first RB Q, even considering how short the track it is not bad, sure if Lewis was on the other car, george was going to be at least .2 behind. Aitken was equally impressive.

    1. @peartree Actually if Bottas had put a proper lap together he would have been 2 tenths up on Russell. Plus Hamilton beat Bottas by 3 tenths the previous round.

      Still it’s a testament of the team that shows they truly are a equality team where both drivers get the same opportunities and a car that is generally good to drive rather than just designed for one specific style.

      1. @f1osaurus I think what the guy is trying to say is that Hamilton would’ve been further ahead Russell than Bottas was. I don’t think there’s any question about that considering Bottas’s general performance level.

        Not sure why you feel you need to be a keyboard warrior all the time, going on here solely to dispute peoples’ comments.

        Maybe find a way to positively contribute I’d suggest.

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