George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test

Fighting Red Bull for Bahrain GP win “will be a stretch” for Mercedes – Russell

2023 F1 season

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George Russell says Mercedes are happy with where they are in pre-season testing but is cautious about their chances of fighting Red Bull in next weekend’s season opener.

Mercedes have been outside of the top five in two of the first three sessions of testing in Bahrain so far but have logged well over 200 laps of running – one of the highest totals of any team.

Compared to the team’s troubled pre-season testing last year, Russell says the team are feeling much happier with the progress with their new car so far.

“In terms of feeling, it feels a step in the right direction,” Russell said. “But as we know in the sport, it’s not all about feeling – it is ultimately about lap time.

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Ferrari, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
Gallery: Pre-season testing day two in pictures
“I think comparing to this time 12 months ago, things are running a lot smoother. Obviously when we were here last year, there were a lot of alarm bells ringing with the porpoising, unsure how to solve it. We were a bit lost – the car characteristics were not good. So I think things have been running much smoother.

“Reliability has been been strong so far to allow us to do the test programme. For sure, we’ve got things we need to improve with the car, but I would say, generally speaking, we’re roughly where we would have expected to be at this time of year.”

Television footage of Friday’s morning session showed Lewis Hamilton appearing to struggle with the rear of his car and traction on corner exit. However, Russell says he is happy to be working more on the balance of the car rather than other fundamental problems.

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“The entry phase has been improved,” he said. “I think it’s no secret when you’re watching the onboards and the videos that we are struggling a little bit with the balance, struggling a lot in the mid-corner.

George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023 pre-season test
“Eventually we will have a car capable of getting into that fight”
“But I think it’s a balance that is probably easier to solve than we had last year. So even though it’s still a limitation, I think, let’s say, it’s a good problem to have.”

Despite enjoying a more promising start to testing than last year, Russell does not feel confident Mercedes will be able to challenge Red Bull for victory during next weekend’s season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix. Max Verstappen set the pace over the first day of running on Thursday.

“You definitely head into the season believing. Every point of my career, I’ve always gone in believing that you need to take a rational view once you get to the track and you learn,” Russell explained.

“I think we definitely believe eventually we will have a car capable of getting into 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, they look very stable – the car’s looking really strong and obviously Max’s performing really well. So 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. We’ve always seen the strength of Mercedes and their development rate. So definitely the belief is there.”

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...
Claire Cottingham
Claire has worked in motorsport for much of her career, covering a broad mix of championships including Formula One, Formula E, the BTCC, British...

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18 comments on “Fighting Red Bull for Bahrain GP win “will be a stretch” for Mercedes – Russell”

  1. “But there’s no reason why eventually we can’t get there at some point this year. We’ve always seen the strength of Mercedes and their development rate. So definitely the belief is there.”

    Is this verbal sandbagging? Or does Mercedes already realise that they genuinely do not have the performance to be fighting the top 2 this season. I guess we’ll know with more clarity at the end of the pre season test, but looking at the current lap times, Mercedes could be trailing at the start again.

    1. They are realistic. They won’t be close to RedBull pace and no one else will actually be close. Every team will find relative gains and it’s more than likely that the best team last year will find ways to refine their package more than those trying to copy and understand it.

      RedBull ended last year with a big advantage over the competition. Every other team except Mercedes and Ferrari are now effectively running a 2022 RedBull, so are at least a year behind in terms of development. A team isn’t going to overtake the original designers of something by copying it, so I appreciate Mercedes trying something different. I’m sure they’ll be closer at some circuits, but the fact is it’s incredibly difficult to close the gap.

      Even if Mercedes found a second over winter (which is huge) RedBull only need to find a few tenths to keep an advantage.

  2. The Merc looked horrible today and Ham was all over the place. I understand it could be high fuel but it just looked sloppy in his hands.

    Wonder how long before the toys are flying out of the pram and he’s trying to leave the team, because I can’t see him tolerating a repeat of last year and seeing it through till the end.

    1. That’s the spirit

    2. Say what you want about Lewis, but he is no Alonso who is the true definition of “toys flying out of the pram”. Two teams since 2007 and plenty of success does not equate to a person who throws a tantrum and seeking an exit.

      1. Difference is, yes they both whinge on the radio, however Alonso gets his head down and scraps even for a single point, whearas Ham is ready to give up when he can’t even get a podium due to having it easy for so long.

        This is not my opinion but what clearly played out last year.

        1. Difference is Lewis stays through to develop a car with a view to turn the situation around. However Alonso drives a car to the point it explodes and ends up the year being beaten by Ocon and seeks an exit to his 6th F1 team (or 8th change of team) as he isn’t getting the power of influence he demands.

          That is not my opinion but what clearly played out last year.

          1. Spot on! Hamilton is the polar opposite of Alonso with ditching teams

          2. You might want to go back and watch last year because everything you said is wrong!

        2. It’s your opinion. It’s not shared by anyone who’s ever worked with Hamilton, including everyone who worked with him last year.

          Me thinks you project too much.

          1. It’s overstated, and if we take Mercedes’ word for the extent of last year’s experimentation, then Hamilton showed a great commitment to the team by running all sorts of trial and error setups, which with a new promising teammate who is very much lined up as his successor is quite a sacrifice.

            That said, Hamilton asking to retire when everything seemed to go wrong in the German GP in 2019 is perhaps the only time I’ve ever heard a driver argue that point. And I don’t recall the year, but one of the Hungarian races had him sulking all the way throughout as well. It’s a bit of an odd mood he sometimes has, but in a 300+ race career there’s no need to pretend those low points are somehow typical; they’re very much outside the norm for Hamilton.

    3. I think Lewis in sensible enough to realise that Mercedes is his best chance at another championship. There will be not toys flying out of anywhere.

    4. Hamilton is 38. He doesn’t need excuses to want out if he feels like it.
      We’re not talking about a 25 year old here.

  3. BLS (@brightlampshade)
    24th February 2023, 13:12

    I don’t think anyone (Mercedes included) expect them to be able to match Red Bull from the off. They just hope to be closer than last year and build on that.

    1. +1 let’s not forget they were 1.8 seconds off the pace in qualifying at some circuits last year. If they can get to within .5 for the first few races then that’ll be a huge improvement for Mercedes.

  4. I would be surprised if they will be able to fight Ferrari let alone RBR. Even if they have sorted their aero, Bahrain is a power track though. I don’t see how they are going to compete with Honda and Ferrari power wise. It was rumoured that they have made some gains during the winter with reliability upgrades but this is also valid for both Ferrari and Honda.

    RBR are going to be the benchmark in both qualy and race. Ferrari will be competitive at least in qualy. Mercedes did have a lot of issues to tackle compared to RBR who finished the season as the benchmark and started developing the RB19 earlier to negate any potential budget cap penalty.

    The RB19 looked like it has gone through multiple development cycles compared to the rest of the grid that will probably catch up with the usual Silverstone upgrade but the championship could be already over by that time.

    1. The engine is indeed a question mark, as last year had pretty much all the Mercedes cars doing worse than average, prompting many articles asking what was going on with the Mercedes PU.

      Still, given that Mercedes still very much spends to the cap and has state of the art facilities, it’ll be a big disappointment if they are unable to be competitive for the second season in a row. Something isn’t working as it should if all that time and money being spend doesn’t produce a good result.

  5. RBR are in a different league. Merc looked a handful all day, lots of understeer and limited grip. To me this is where they kinda needed to be last year. It looks like they are a year and some behind in general. Hopefully Ferrari is in a much better place as they did look good today. And for this seasons troll (Superman), Hamilton has made it clear on several occasions that he’s not leaving (yet).

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