George Russell says Mercedes are unlikely to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari in season opener next weekend; Mercedes have been off the impressive pace of reigning world champion Max Verstappen at pre-season testing; watch final day of testing live on Sky Sports from Saturday at 6.50am
Last Updated: 24/02/23 2:08pm
George Russell has admitted he does not expect Mercedes to be able to compete with Red Bull and Ferrari for victory at the opening race of the 2023 Formula 1 season in Bahrain next weekend.
While Mercedes appear to have cured the bouncing issues that plagued their 2022 campaign, reigning world champion Max Verstappen has looked in dominant form for Red Bull on the opening two days of testing, which is also being held at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Ferrari appear to be Verstappen’s most likely challenger at the season-opener, with Carlos Sainz impressing by topping the timesheet in Friday’s morning session.
Asked about his expectations for the start of the season before participating in Friday’s afternoon session, Russell said: “You definitely head into a season believing.
“Every point of my career, I’ve always gone in believing, but you need to take a rational view once you get to the track you learn.
“I think we definitely believe eventually we will have a car capable of getting in 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 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.”
Russell delivered an impressive debut campaign with Mercedes last year despite the team’s struggles, and insists they are in a far better place than they were 12 months ago.
“Definitely in terms of feeling, it feels a step in the right direction but as we know in this sport, it’s not all about feeling, it’s ultimately about lap time,” Russell said.
“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.
“Reliability has 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’d say generally speaking we’re roughly where we would have expected to be at this time of year.”
Wolff: We’re still hiding a little bit
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said it was “no surprise” Red Bull and Ferrari were fast, but eased concerns over Mercedes’ sluggish display on Friday by insisting his team were “still hiding a little bit” of performance.
Wolff’s comments to Sky Sports F1 came during a morning session in which seven-time world champion finished only eighth of the 10 participating drivers.
While the testing timesheet should be approached with caution due to the face fuel loads and engine settings remain private, the gap between Mercedes and their rivals’ were striking.
“[It’s] very difficult to judge at this stage,” Wolff told Sky Sports F1.
“Everybody is playing around with fuel loads and there’s a little bit of hiding on engine modes, so you can’t really judge.
“We’re still hiding a little bit.
“I think you need to wait for the three days running, also when the softer tyres come onto the tyres in the afternoon, which is more representative conditions for Bahrain.”
This post is originally appeared on Sky News