Russell: W15 a “totally different beast of a car” after qualifying a strong P3 for F1 Bahrain GP

Photo credits: Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
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After an encouraging P2 during yesterday’s FP2, the Mercedes driver has secured a great starting spot for the main event, as he will line up in P3 directly behind Verstappen on the clean side of the track.

Russell admitted he was taken by surprise by the newly-found performance in the W15, especially considering how it had behaved during testing, remarking his gratitude towards the whole engineering team:

“I think after testing last week we wouldn’t have expected to be qualifying third, and then yesterday driving we made a lot of set-up changes over the course of the weekend.

“As I have mentioned before, Lewis and I were back at the factory and the team have been doing a really great job to find these small improvements and we were really fast in FP2, Lewis and I had P1 and P2 which caught us by surprise but as we saw it was so close out there, if you take Max out of the equation.”

The positive impression was remarked by the fact that the whole field appears to have closed up over the span of the off-season, with the gap between the best lap of Q1 and the worse barely over a second:

“I think it was two tenths between P2 and P8 or something and I don’t think we’ve seen F1 like this for a long, long time so you know we only dream and wish that was fighting for pole position and victory. I think we’re gonna have a great battle on our hands for the next spot.”

Asked if in his opinion the better performance put in by the Brackley-based team was due to the peculiar weather conditions offered by qualifying being held earlier in the year than normal in Bahrain, and thus with a cooler track temperature, Russell denied:

“No, I’d probably say the opposite, to be honest. We historically have always struggled when the temperatures have been a little bit cooler and that was always the case last year.

“But we know that this W15 car it’s a totally different beast of a car that we’re much happier with, and probably the lessons we’ve learned over the last two years, we need to put it aside and go on with a totally open mind.”

From the former Williams driver’s words, it appears like 2024 might have in store positive surprises for him and his team.

However, it’s far too soon in the season to think about the fact if Mercedes can challenge for wins and attack Verstappen in the championship this season.

“So, time will tell when we go to the future races, but I’m feeling really happy in the car. I think the race is going to be really close with Charles the Ferraris with Checo tomorrow and we can see what we can do about Max but you know right now he’s doing an incredible job.

“I think what we saw in testing was our qualifying pace being a little bit offset and our race pace probably being the next best to Max. Now, we’ve improved the qualifying pace, and we hope it hasn’t hindered our race pace.

In Russell’s opinion, the 2024 Bahrain GP will be an uncommon race at Sakhir, due to the peculiar weather and climate conditions encountered on the track during the weekend:

“It’s uncharacteristically cold here in Bahrain at the moment, I think tomorrow is going to be about 16 degrees by the time we go to the race and, you know, we’re normally talking 30s or mid-30s here in Bahrain.”

“So, there’s a lot of a lot of unexpected things to come: the soft tyres performing well around this this circuit in the race, maybe people do two sets of the softs, two sets of the hards, a medium.

“But it’s the first race of the season, and I think we’re all just excited to get going again,” concluded Russell.