Former Formula 1 driver Ralf Schumacher is enticed by the early indicators of George Russell’s competitiveness at Mercedes, but emphasises that the championship is far beyond them at this stage.
Amid all-new technical regulations introduced ahead of the 2022 season, Mercedes have visibly struggled in the early stages of the season, and have publicly expressed their apprehension of a difficult season as a result of the numerous issues they have encountered.
Mercedes have been a particular victim of the “porpoising” problem that the new ground effect aerodynamics pose, and that proclivity has opened a Pandora’s Box of multiple other setbacks as they scramble to try and find a rapid solution that will aid their ascent back up the order.
Sir Lewis Hamilton recovered to tenth in Saudi Arabia after starting 15th, while Russell beat him in both qualifying and the race, starting sixth and ending fifth.
Schumacher is enthused by the dynamic at the Silver Arrows now that we have seen a glimpse of the 24-year-old’s auspicious potential at Mercedes.
“Russell is also showing that Hamilton has a teammate at eye-level, which will be exciting to watch,” he said.
“Russell is not someone who will be content with his current position of the second driver.”
However, the on-track rivalry will not extend to the title fight, as Ferrari and Red Bull have opened out an insurmountable advantage over the rest in the eyes of the six-time race winner.
“But the championship is very far away from them now. By the time they can compete again, Leclerc and Verstappen will be too far ahead.”
1997 champion Jacques Villeneuve suggests that the superiority of Mercedes’ car covered up the bad weekends that Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas and Nico Rosberg have experienced at the team during the turbo-hybrid era, and he wonders whether they will now be galvanised to push harder as a result.
“It’s obvious that Mercedes has fallen off the pedestal,” he explained.
“For years, bad weekends could be camouflaged by their superior engine. That is no longer the case.
“It will be interesting how the team will react, because Toto Wolff and Lewis Hamilton are not used to this.
“But we can already say that competing for the title is no longer an option. Lewis has always had a perfect car. He never had to push because they were so much faster.”
Mercedes sit second in the Constructors’ Championship behind Ferrari, but Red Bull will likely soon be on their tails as they recover from the double mechanical failure suffered by Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in Bahrain.