Lewis Hamilton replacement George Russell showed why many in the sport believe he has a big future in the sport after upstaging Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas and everybody else when he recorded the fastest time in both sessions at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Filling in for seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton who was ruled out with coronavirus, the 22-year-old Brit recorded the fastest lap this season with 54. 713 and was well within the time set by Niki Lauda with the fastest lap pole time in Formula One, set at the 1974 French Grand Prix.
Russell, who was only released by Williams on Monday, was forced to wear racing shoes a size smaller than usual to squeeze into the car being significantly taller than Hamilton.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen came second by 0.323 seconds while Bottas came 11th with a messy run. He was also unlucky when his two best laps – both faster than Russell’s – were eliminated because he exceeded track limits.
Despite dominating, Russell said he’s not going to get carried away by his performance.
“I do think the lap times are a little bit deceiving at the moment and aren’t a true representation of the pace,” Russell said.
“I thought FP2 was not representative, not a great session for me. I struggled, especially on the high fuel, and obviously that’s going to be key on Sunday.
“So still got a lot of work to do to get comfortable in the car, get comfortable with the set up, make some improvements because I think tomorrow’s going to be a different story.
“Just because I was quickest today doesn’t mean that’s where I’m going to be tomorrow,” he added.
“Verstappen was incredibly quick in the long runs, Valtteri (Bottas) was quickest in P2 but he got his lap deleted – he probably only gained half a tenth in all honesty – so I’m probably a good tenth and a half behind Valtteri on the low fuel.”
At more than six foot tall, Russell said Mercedes had to make a number of adjustments to the car, and it was painstaking proposition.
“Pretty battered and bruised already, to be honest,” Russell admitted.
“We’ve already gone through what needs to change.
“It’s not the work of a moment, changing the seat here and there. (We’re) Working hard to do that to try and improve for Sunday, but I’m sure it will be fine.”
Sergio Perez was third for Racing Point ahead of Renault’s Esteban Ocon, Alex Albon in the second Red Bull and Daniil Kvyat of Alpha Tauri with Lance Stroll seventh for Racing Point.
Verstappen almost grabbed the lead during practice two despite having problems with his car. “I have the same problem as last week out of Turn One,” he said. “It’s just hopping.”
It enabled Russell to the top while Charles Leclerc remained among the spectators as his Ferrari was under repairs for a ‘half-shaft’ issue.
The session was run in warm and dry conditions without major incident under floodlights after nightfall. Despite his protests, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff had to endure seeing it billed as a direct contest between Russell and Bottas to impress him.