Sakhir Grand Prix: Mercedes replacement George Russell sets the tone in first practice

Russell is yet to score a drivers’ championship point in his 36 races with Williams

Briton George Russell set the fastest time in the first practice session at the Sakhir Grand Prix by completing his first kilometers in Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes.

Valtteri Bottas’ second Mercedes finished fourth, 0.322 seconds behind.

The Finn made a series of mistakes on his laps and damaged his car in a moment off track at turn eight.

Russell, who is a Mercedes protégé, has driven for Williams since making his F1 debut in 2019.

Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff decided he wanted to try Russell in the car in Hamilton’s absence rather than designated reserve driver Stoffel Vandoorne.

“P1 has been a good session for him,” Wolff said. “We have to calm everyone down – it was a first practice session on a very short track. But he delivered a really solid job in what we expect of him on one lap.

“The long runs were difficult with our car and difficult to establish a benchmark because [Bottas] broke his car from the start and it was difficult for him to stop it properly. ”

Russell, who has been a young Mercedes driver since 2017, completed just over 6,500km of testing for the team but hadn’t driven this year’s car for real or in a simulator before this practice session.

He revealed on Thursday that he had to wear driving boots too small for his height of 11 feet in the car.

At 6 feet 1 inches, Russell is 14 cm taller than Hamilton.

He spent his first race acclimating to the car and finished it a second slower than Bottas.

But on their second stint, Russell went to the top of the timesheets on his first lap of flight and Bottas started to make mistakes, seemingly over-piloting as he looked to match Russell’s time, running wide. at turn eight and wobbling into turn two.

On his second flying lap of the race, Russell nearly matched his first time, and then on his third he hit 0.3 seconds more to end the session in impressive style.

His friend Charles Leclerc, the Ferrari driver, predicted on Thursday that he would “bet on a win” for Russell, even though it was “very optimistic”, but the prospect now looks a lot more realistic than it did before. the cars don’t start to roll. Track.

BBC F1 analyst Jolyon Palmer said: “It built a lot faster than I expected, but let’s hold our judgment a little longer. “

The race takes place on a shorter, unused version of the Sakhir track, which contains only four real turns.

Russell’s fastest time was 54.546 seconds – the shortest lap of the season by far – which is likely to lead to a hectic weekend.

Behind Bottas, Alpha Tauri’s Daniil Kvyat and Pierre Gasly followed, ahead of Esteban Ocon’s Renault, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo’s second Renault and Charles Leclerc’s second Ferrari.

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