Charles Leclerc, Max Verstappen, George Russell, Bahrain, 2024

Russell and Leclerc say Red Bull are closer than they expected

Formula 1

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The two drivers who qualified nearest to Max Verstappen say they didn’t expect to be so close to the Red Bull.

Charles Leclerc lapped quicker than Verstappen in qualifying, but was unable to replicate the time during Q3. He said Ferrari’s performance was “a bit better than what we expected.”

“Today there’s three tenths [deficit] in Q3 but I think we could have, realistically in the car, I think we could have gone closer to Max. So a bit more, a bit better than what we expected.”

George Russell, who will line up in third place, agreed it looked “better than expected” for Red Bull’s rivals.

“I think we all knew it was going to be very, very close between ourselves, Ferrari, Aston, McLaren and Checo,” he said. “And I think the gap in qualifying today was probably slightly closer to Max than we all expected.”

However he doesn’t expect he will be able to challenge to win today’s race. “Race pace is the important one,” he said. “We’re expecting probably a half-second deficit. That’s what we thought after testing. We’ll see tomorrow, I think.”

Russell said Mercedes thought they were further behind during testing, but have made progress with the car since. “Last week we wouldn’t have expected to be qualifying third,” he said on Friday. “Then yesterday, driving, we made a lot of set-up changes over the course of the weekend.

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“Lewis [Hamilton] and I were back at the factory and the team have been doing a really great job to find these small improvements and we were really fast just in FP2, Lewis and I, P1 and P2, which caught us by surprise.

“But it was so close out there. If you take Max out of the equation, I think it was two tenths between P2 and P8 or something. I don’t think we’ve seen F1 like this for a long, long time.

“We only dream and wish that was fighting for pole position and victory. I think we’re going to have a great battle on our hands for the next spot.”

Conditions at the Bahrain International Circuit have been considerably cooler than usual this weekend. Russell believes hotter conditions would suit Mercedes better.

“We historically have always struggled when the temperatures have been a little bit cooler and that was always the case last year. But we know that with this W15 car, it’s a totally different beast, a car that we’re much happier with and probably the lessons we’ve learned over the last two years we need to put aside and go in with a totally open mind.

“Time will tell when we go to the future races, but I’m feeling really happy in the car. I think the race is going to be really close with Charles, the Ferraris, with Checo, and we can see what we can do about Max but right now he’s doing an incredible job.”

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The top nine drivers in Q3 were covered by half a second – 10th-placed Nico Hulkenberg did not set a time on new rubber. Russell said the field is closing up because no major changes have been made to the rules since 2022, and expects that to continue.

“History has definitely shown that even the regulations [being] stable for a number of years always closes the field,” he said. “I think the aero regs – that the team who finishes last gets more time in the wind tunnel, the team who’s first gets the least amount – is naturally going to close the field.

“From a driver’s perspective, we want to all compete on a level playing field and I think that is going to bring us closer.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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8 comments on “Russell and Leclerc say Red Bull are closer than they expected”

  1. Wait after race finish then comment.

  2. Let’s see what happens in race trim before celebrating anything

  3. The worry for those that don’t like Red Bull is that this is a new concept they have on their cars – they’ll still be learning how to set it up. They ditched the concept that the others are now using because they felt they got as much out of it as possible and this new idea has more room for development.

    That suggests they think they can make this car much faster than it currently is….

    1. Good point, though that’s not a worry for those who don’t like red bull, I like them for example, I just don’t like domination, it’s boring.

    2. Nah, I don’t think what you say makes sense.
      RedBull have a new sidepod aero design, but so have many other teams. Mercedes have actually a completely new car including but not limited to the aero. Many other teams have changed from pushrod to pullrod fron suspension etc.
      I don’t know how you could say the RedBull is more new to their engineers than the other cars to their engineers. Nothing says it is.

      1. Yes, a lot of serious publications stated this. The rb20 is a new platform based on the old one.
        Exactly like pete (and a lot of respectable technical journalists) agree on.
        Build to develop better then possible with the now often copied rb19.

  4. This aged well

    1. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
      2nd March 2024, 22:04

      Lol, it sure did. Clearly the Red Bull is in a category of its own and would have qualified by a larger margin if Max wasn’t trying to slow down throughout the entire lap…

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