George Russell says he had to “relearn” how to drive in Mercedes’ “alien” 2020 Formula 1 car as he impressed to claim second place on the grid in his qualifying debut for the team at the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Contesting his first race weekend for Mercedes as a stand-in for Lewis Hamilton, who has COVID-19, Russell managed to get within 0.026s of teammate Valtteri Bottas’ pole position effort as he secured a spot on the front-row of the grid in Bahrain.

It was a huge impressive performance from Russell, who topped both practice sessions on Friday but slipped back in the FP3 timesheets heading into his first qualifying outing for Mercedes.

Russell explained that the transition from the slowest car of the grid in the Williams to the fastest in Mercedes’ W11 was a difficult challenge.

“It’s been incredibly intense, so much to learn getting used to the car, the seat, everything,” Russell said. “It’s just so different.

“It felt really alien to begin with. It’s just a really different way of driving to be honest, trying to unlearn what I learned at Williams and relearn how to drive this car fast.

“I tried a lot of things in FP3. And it didn’t go well at all so to be honest I’d have been happy just to get into Q3 after final practice.

“But really pleased, we got it pretty much all together in the final lap, obviously gutted to miss out on pole by 20 milliseconds but if you told me last week I’d be qualifying P2 on the grid next week, I think I wouldn’t believe you!”

Despite being slightly frustrated to narrowly miss out on a dream maiden F1 pole, Russell said he can come away from qualifying satisfied with his efforts.

“I think you know Valtteri has pushed Lewis a huge amount in qualifying over the years,” he explained.

“Statistically there’s only been a tenth between them and we all know how great Lewis is. Just to be right behind Valtteri, coming in last minute [with] two days of prep, I’m pleased, I’m pleased – so let’s see what we can do tomorrow.”

Russell is anticipating a tough race ahead after getting “bruised and battered” due to having to squeeze into Mercedes’ 2020 car, but nonetheless said he would be giving everything to get the maximum result possible.

“I’ve got nobody in front of me tomorrow which I’ve not experienced for a long, long time,” he said.

“It’s going to be tricky, it’s going to be really tricky. Qualifying’s what I feel most comfortable with; It’s just balls out everything you’ve got.

“Tomorrow you need a bit more control, a bit more finesse. And I just haven’t had the experience yet. So, giving it my all, let’s see what we can do.”

 

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