Russell fastest in first session as Hamilton stand-in

George Russell a tenth faster than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in first practice as Mercedes driver; Valtteri Bottas fourth and three tenths slower than Russell in sister W11 car

Last Updated: 04/12/20 3:37pm

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Watch the lap with which George Russell took the timesheet honours in Practice One at the Sakhir GP
Watch the lap with which George Russell took the timesheet honours in Practice One at the Sakhir GP

George Russell impressively set the pace on his practice debut for Mercedes standing in for Lewis Hamilton in Friday’s opening session on F1’s first experience of Bahrain’s fast ‘Outer’ track at the Sakhir GP.

Two days after receiving the call up to replace the seven-time champion after Hamilton’s positive coronavirus result, Russell was driving the 2020 W11 car for the very first time – but showed no signs of needing an acclimatisation process to F1’s fastest and title-winning car.

Outpacing new team-mate Valtteri Bottas by three tenths of a second, as the Finn endured a scruffy session with locking brakes, Russell settled himself in gently to the session as F1 got to grips with its newest layout with a quickest lap of 54.546 seconds.

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George Russell sits down to talk to Sky F1’s Simon Lazenby at length ahead of the Sakhir GP about his call-up and opportunity at Mercedes this weekend.
George Russell sits down to talk to Sky F1’s Simon Lazenby at length ahead of the Sakhir GP about his call-up and opportunity at Mercedes this weekend.

The Bahrain Outer loop – which features just 11 corners, seven fewer than last week’s full Bahrain circuit – runs to just 3.5km and is producing sub-60 second lap times in F1 for the first time since 1974.

Max Verstappen was second for Red Bull, just a tenth behind Russell, with Alex Albon a further tenth back in the sister car.

But it was Russell’s seamless – and fast – start that made the headlines.

“It’s the start George would have wanted,” said Sky F1’s Anthony Davidson, who also serves as a simulator driver for Mercedes. “He looked like he was at home in the car and I’m impressed so far. But it’s early days.

“He’s off to a good start, although of course there are things still to work on.”

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told Sky Sports: “He coped well. I saw him this morning, we had a chat and also yesterday, he seems very natural. There is not great excitement about being in the car because he knows he needs to deliver a solid job. He is taking the car of the greatest champion of all time and he needs to get there gradually.”

Wolff said while Russell and Bottas were “like-for-like” in terms of car settings, but the latter sustained damage to his W11 and did not have an optimised session as a result.

4:24
In an exclusive with Sky Sports F1, Romain Grosjean recalls his death-defying crash from last Sunday’s Bahrain GP.
In an exclusive with Sky Sports F1, Romain Grosjean recalls his death-defying crash from last Sunday’s Bahrain GP.

Jack Aitken, standing in for Russell at Williams, and Pietro Fittipaldi, replacing Romain Grosjean after the Frenchman’s fiery crash last week, are making their full F1 debuts and finished 19th and 20th respectively in the opening session.

More to follow…

Source : Sky Sports