Russell optimistic but warns Ferrari used ‘lowest power mode’

Mercedes impressed during the first two practice sessions in Barcelona on Friday.

Mercedes F1 driver George Russell is relatively satisfied with his team’s performance so far in Spain, but is acutely aware of the inconsistencies that befell them in Miami.

Russell was second in the first practice session in Florida two weeks ago, and topped FP2 as the German outfit appeared to have a better understanding of how to extract performance from their car, but his pace fell away throughout the remainder of the weekend as he qualified 12th before finishing fifth.

The 24-year-old ended FP1 in P4, two positions ahead of team-mate Sir Lewis Hamilton before both Britons managed to climb into the top three in the second session, leaving a lot of smiles over at Mercedes.

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A grin that was perhaps not so wide was that of Russell, who does not want to get ahead of himself after the confounding pace drop-off in the United States.

“I don’t know to be honest because in Miami we were quickest on Friday and obviously here we are second,” he said.

“Let’s see. The car is definitely reacting differently, we have different limitations this time. 

“We definitely don’t have the porpoising in the straight which is good but we are still experiencing a bit here and there in the corners which ultimately, you need to dial it out in the corners. 

“I think Red Bull still look very, very strong, they look the team to be reckoned with at the moment. We need to go through the data.”

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The former Williams driver reckons that Red Bull and Ferrari were both holding back on engine performance on Friday despite Charles Leclerc topping both sessions, and he acknowledges that keeping the tyres in check is also going to be crucial to a good result.

“I see no reason why we can’t be as far away from the front as we showed if not a little bit closer,” added Russell.

“There’s differences with power modes and stuff. I think Ferrari and Red Bull were on their lowest power mode so they’ve got a bit on us there.

“I don’t know, it’s tricky. Degradation was massive for everybody, and that’s going to be what’s going to make or break this race on Sunday so that’s going to be what we’re focused on tonight.”

In the vein of tyre performance, Russell quipped that “four or five” stops might be needed, before making a more serious prediction that it will “probably” be two.

“Probably two. I don’t really know, I need to go through the numbers but two is a minimum as it stands for everyone,” he said.

While the bouncing has not completely gone away – partly owing to the track surface in Catalunya – the 10-time points scorer hopes there will be a definitive solution soon, but overall believes that things are looking up for Mercedes.

“There probably will be a solution in the pipeline,” he explained.

“Probably nothing this weekend that we can instantly implement and find the solutions but I think it’s finding that balance between what we want to set up the car for for qualifying and for the race.

“I think we’re in a good spot.”

Hamilton seemed a lot more upbeat than he has been in previous weeks after a promising day at the office for the Silver Arrows, and hopes to be challenging Red Bull and Ferrari soon.

“Positive!” he said on Friday.

“[I’m] super happy with the progress so big, big, big thank you to everyone back at the factory for not giving up and continuing to push.

“We’re not the quickest yet but we’re on our way. It’s the first time we’ve driven down the straight without bouncing.

“We still have some bouncing, but it’s way better so yeah [we’re] starting to eke into a bit of the potential in our car.

“It’s still tough out there with the car but it’s much nicer than it’s been before so yeah [I’m] really grateful for these upgrades.

“It’s just trying to fine tune them into the next session so overnight, lots of data to go over and try to position the car.

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“I think we can get it into an even better place for tomorrow, so hopefully we can tackle the heels of the guys up ahead.”

Russell comes into the weekend fourth in the Drivers’ Standings, and he will hope that a strong performance in Spain this weekend will keep him ahead of the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.