“A shock, “really strong” — Hamilton and Russell on a dominant FP2 for Mercedes at F1 Bahrain GP

Photo: Mercedes AMG - Petronas
Spread the love

After a 3-month break, Formula 1 returns with the Bahrain Grand Prix and today the drivers faced the first Free Practice sessions of the 2024 season.

FP2 takes place in very similar conditions to the race and qualifying, and in this session, three Mercedes -powered cars led the way, with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell of the Mercedes AMG-Petronas team taking 1st and 2nd place, followed by Fernando Alonso in his Aston Martin.

The three-time champion and favourite to win this year’s Drivers’ Championship, Max Verstappen, finished 6th, almost half a second away from Hamilton.

But despite this, Russell commented that although the W15’s performance was better than expected, they should not get too excited about it since in his opinion, Red Bull has better race pace and they are not ready yet to figh with the Milton Keynes-based team. Sandbagging was the order of the day for them.

“We’re not getting carried away with ourselves. The qualifying pace looked really strong, we still need to understand why it was so good. We made some changes from the test and it exceeded expectations. But ultimately, the long run pace is where it all happens and Max is still ahead of us.

“After testing Max looked a long way out in front, now that gap has reduced, but he’s still out in front. I think he’s still got a healthy margin to the others, rather than just a ridiculous margin to the others.

So, by no means does this mean we’re back, or we can fight with them just yet.”

Despite that, the King’s Lynn native expressed that the battle they have is with other teams and drivers, as he felt some cars have very similar pace to the W15.

“It was very close with Fernando, Lando [Norris] and the Ferraris, Lewis and I were very similar as well, so we have a real fight on our hands. In race pace we were very pleased with the day, the car is performing really well but we’re not going to get carried away with the timesheets just yet.”

The 26-year-old was asked about the team’s performance and whether he feels they will be stronger in qualifying than they were last week, to which he replied “I hope so”, as he keeps his feet on the ground and affirms that the Brackley team have yet to discover where the improved performance has come from and whether it is sustainable.

“We need to sit down and understand where this increase in performance has come from, whether it’s a one-off, whether we can sustain this and what we need to do to fight for a serious position on Sunday.”

Like his team-mate, Lewis Hamilton was surprised by the improvements to the car since pre-season testing and also expressed that he does not feel these gains represent Mercedes becoming the benchmark in F1.

“It’s a shock to see us where we are but we’ll take it for now,” he said. “But we can’t get ahead of ourselves, we need to keep our heads down, keep working on the set-up and trying to extract more. I think a long run pace is nowhere near the Red Bulls, for example, so we’ve got some work to do that.”

The second oldest driver on the grid agrees with his team-mate on who his rivals will be and says it is too early to say whether Mercedes will be on the podium in Bahrain.

“I think we’re going to be in the mix. It’s a bit too early to say, but I think we’re there or thereabouts with Ferrari and Ferrari and maybe Aston and McLaren.”

The seven-time world champion said it will be good, close battles but if Max Verstappen gets into the lead, he will pull away from the rest as he has done in years past: “It’s going be a close, a nice battle. [But] if Max is in front, he will veer off as he has done for the last couple of years.”

While both Mercedes drivers seem to agree on who they will be fighting with, it remains to be seen whether the improvements to the car are sustainable not only for this weekend, but for the rest of this year.