Impressive Russell tops Friday’s free practice for Sakhir GP

George Russell put in a mightily impressive performance in his first competitive outing for the Mercedes AMG F1 team by topping the lap times after Friday practice for the Sakhir GP.

The Williams Racing driver only learned earlier in the week that he would replace the COVID-19 afflicted Lewis Hamilton in the team, a hasty seat fit and car adjustment required to get the Englishman ready for the weekend.

And despite Russell complaining of discomfort with his shoulder straps and needing to wear a smaller size of race boot to better manage the pedals, a quickest mark of 0.54.546s saw him top the early times from Max Verstappen and Alexander Albon from his opening salvo of 49 laps. Valtteri Bottas, the usual king of FP1 in 2020, could only manage the fourth quickest time and was 0.322s off his new temporary teammate’s pace.

“Not an easy track, to say the least,” said Russell after Friday’s session. “It’s going to be very different in quali. In the race, it’s going to be carnage. So the next two days are important. “I’m working with the best in the business and I’m learning so much every single lap in the car. I do think the lap times are a little bit deceiving at the moment and aren’t a true representation of the pace.”

Bottas seemed strangely out of sorts, perhaps feeling the pressure of having to outperform the late stand-in, making a number of uncharacteristic mistakes on the shortest lap in the calendar and compromising his session by damaging his Mercedes after such an off-track excursion at Turn Eight.

With the circuit temperature further dropping as the evening wore on, teams experimented with both qualifying laps on the soft compound tyre before switching to high fuel longer runs to end the day.

And again, it was Russell who topped the lap times after his early effort on the Pirelli softs saw him clock a 0.54.713s best effort before the longer run stints began. Verstappen was again second quickest on the timesheets ahead of the Racing Point of Sergio Perez, Esteban Ocon and Albon. Daniil Kvyat was next in his Alpha Tauri, ahead of Lance Stroll, Daniel Ricciardo and Pierre Gasly.

“FP2 was not a great session for me, especially with the high fuel, and ultimately for me that’s going to be key on Sunday,” added Russell. “So we’ve still got a lot of work to do to get comfortable in the car, get comfortable with the set-up, make some improvements and I think tomorrow’s going to be a different story.

“I’m pretty battered and bruised already, to be honest. So we’ve already gone through what needs to change. It’s not the work of a moment, changing the seat here and there, so working hard with the guys to try and improve that for Sunday. There’s so much to take in, to learn. And lap after lap I’m learning more and more. I’m doing me absolute best to be as prepared as possible but jumping in the car with a day and a half, two days’ notice, is tricky. I’m doing my best. It was a good first day but there’s definitely work to be done.”

Carlos Sainz rounded out the top ten ahead of Bottas, who again struggled to keep his Mercedes within the track limits, clocking the 11th fastest time after having his quicker times deleted on his soft tyres.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.