George Russell, Mercedes, Bahrain International Circuit, 2023

Russell expects Mercedes to start closing gap to Red Bull with Bahrain upgrade

2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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George Russell is confident Mercedes has the potential to fight for the championship in 2023 but expects a “challenging” start to the season in Bahrain.

Mercedes did not compete for either world championship title in 2022 for the first time in the V6 turbo era, with Russell taking the team’s sole victory in Brazil. Russell suffered a technical failure in the team’s new W14 on the second evening of testing and the team was unable to match Red Bull’s quickest times.

But while Russell does not expect Mercedes will be contending for victory this weekend, he said “the mood in the camp is good” ahead of the opening race. “It was a good test, we learnt a lot.

“I think we learned that obviously Red Bull are looking really, really strong. But equally, we feel like we’ve got a lot of room that we can improve.”

The first of the team’s upgrades will arrive for this race, he said. “We’ve probably brought a little bit more pace this weekend after the learnings of testing. It’s going to be for sure a challenging weekend if we want to try and fight for that victory. But we probably knew that ahead of the season, starting off where we did.”

Even if Red Bull are comfortable winners this weekend, Russell suspects their advantage will be reduced over the following races.

“It’s a very unique circuit here in Bahrain – I’ll be surprised if the gaps are that large at other circuits,” Russell said.

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“I trust in our team and if we develop at the same rate as we did last year, we’re definitely starting from a higher point. But I think the good thing is here, there’s not too many races at the start of the season, so it gives us some time to develop in the wind tunnel and back at the factory to fight for when the main block of races come.”

With Mercedes’ winning pedigree of dominating so many of the recent seasons, Russell is confident of his team’s ability to develop their W14 into a contender over the course of the season. He said the team already knowns where it needs to make the most improvement.

“Naturally, everybody’s always looking for more downforce and I think the tricky thing with these new regulations of car is trying to get the car as low as possible and gaining that downforce,” he explained.

“Probably being a little bit more efficient in a straight line. Red Bull have been very strong, generally speaking, in their drag and I think we may have made a small step improvement this weekend. So I hope that is reflected in the speed traps and that’s almost a bit of free lap time.”

He is optimistic about the team’s chances of putting up a stronger fight against Red Bull as the season goes on.

“We need to trust in our process. Mercedes have built a world championship-winning car for eight seasons in a row. We’ve still fundamentally got all of the same guys there and they haven’t just forgotten how to build a fast race car.

“I think we were obviously on the back foot following the challenges of the W13, but I absolutely believe, as the season progresses, we’re definitely going to close that gap and there’s no reason why we can’t fight as the season hots up.”

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2023 Bahrain Grand Prix

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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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3 comments on “Russell expects Mercedes to start closing gap to Red Bull with Bahrain upgrade”

  1. Hear hear

  2. Last year Mercedes were completely lost at this stage. They seemed best of the rest in Bahrain but quicky went on a fact finding mission which put them easily a second off the pace. By Silverstone the team had the race pace to actually fight at the front before eventually winning a race at the end of the season.

    This year they seem to have a much better starting point. RedBull look in their own league, but I expect Mercedes will be much closer at some circuits.

    Russel made a great point with the calendar too. There’s only 4 races in the next 2 months. That’s plenty of time for their Baku upgrade to do some Championship damage if they find themselves struggling in the first few races.

    Let’s wait and see. My head tells me this will be a 18+ race wins to Redbull season. But my heart tells me to believe in Mercedes and Ferrari to at least put up some kind of fight.

  3. All teams bring upgrades to baku to a certain level but baku is’t the ideal place to do so. When we get to the european seadon, starting at Imola, the real upgrades or bspecs will launch. Problem being, its not gonna close gaps that fast if everybody is doing upgrades of course

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