Mercedes ready to mount championship bid after Russell’s ‘genuine’ podium

George Russell ended the Australian Grand Prix third behind the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

George Russell’s second podium of the season in Spain was earned on merit, unlike the first in Melbourne, according to the 24-year-old.

Russell got onto the podium in the third round of the season in Melbourne after a reliability failure for Max Verstappen and a horrible weekend for Carlos Sainz, coupled with a slice of fortune with the Safety Car.

In Barcelona, he qualified fourth ahead of Sergio Perez and spent a large chunk of the race battling with the Mexican along with his Red Bull team-mate Verstappen, before finishing third.

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That came after he passed Sainz off the start, before Charles Leclerc suffered a DNF as a result of an engine failure.

Generally, Mercedes looked much improved in Spain compared to the opening five rounds of the season.

They did not appear to be suffering from “porpoising,” their pace was consistently competitive with Ferrari and Red Bull, and the W13’s ability to go toe-to-toe with the Red Bulls on Sunday was indicative of the progress they have made since round one.

It is for that reason that Russell feels like the third-placed finish last weekend is more fulfilling than the first earlier this year.

“I feel like this was more genuine,” he said in the post-race press conference.

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“I think we have probably halved the gap to those front runners, compared to the rest of the season. And I think we know there’s probably more performance to find.”

The hard work at Brackley and Brixworth to get the car back to competitiveness over the course of the last two months gives the 24-year-old optimism that they can now involve themselves in the title battle this year. 

“It’s been a season of problem solving as opposed to trying to find more performance and bring more performance to the car,” explained Russell.

“And I think we’ve now finally solved our issue and we can now focus on bringing more performance.

“So yeah, we’re six races behind but there’s no reason why we can’t claw this back.”

Meanwhile, Sir Lewis Hamilton was forced to pit after lap one of the race after contact with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, putting him down to 19th and in need of a recovery drive.

He suggested that the team “save the engine” five laps in, but made a sterling recovery to finish fifth, a performance that was praised by 1996 champion Damon Hill.

“It’s the Hamilton emotional rollercoaster, isn’t it?” he said.

“It’s just amazing how he just thinks ‘oh no it’s no good’. But that was a stunning performance and it was a champion’s drive right through from nowhere. They gave him the equipment to do it as well. I thought it was stunning.”

The 22-time race winner believes that Mercedes are laying down the foundations of a competitive season after the tribulations they have gone through in the early part of the year.

“I think definitely, they showed they had the pace this weekend,” added Hill.

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“They’ve only just started to whittle and fettle it into perfection. There are seeds of hope there.”

Mercedes’ result has seen them close the gap to Ferrari to 49 points after the Scuderia’s horrible day saw them lose the lead of the Constructors’ Championship to Red Bull.