Carlos Sainz believes George Russell’s impressive Mercedes debut “demonstrates what Formula 1 is missing out on” due to the large performance gaps that exist between teams.

Russell starred on his qualifying debut for Mercedes as stand-in for Lewis Hamilton, who has been ruled out of the weekend after testing positive for coronavirus, by getting within 0.026s of claiming a sensational maiden pole position having been narrowly edged out by Valtteri Bottas.

And McLaren’s Sainz, who is heading to Ferrari for next season, reckons Russell’s performance highlights what a number of drivers on the grid could achieve if the playing field was more level, something F1 is hoping to achieve with its regulation overhaul for 2022.

"It just demonstrates what Formula 1 is missing out on, by having cars that are two seconds apart when pretty much the whole grid could be within three tenths of a second because of the talent there is on the grid,” said Sainz.

"It's a shame that a guy that is fighting for P15 every weekend, suddenly when you put him in a race winning car, he's 20 thousandths off pole.

"If anything for me, this demonstrates what F1 is missing out from, creating a much more incredible show if you could level the playing field a bit more and allow the driver to make more of a difference.

"At the moment, when you are one second off the pace or two seconds off the pace, you cannot really see the last two tenths from a driver that makes a difference.”

Teammate Lando Norris was equally praising of Russell’s display but suspects that the close gap between the two Mercedes drivers was partly the result of F1 using Bahrain’s shorter Outer Loop circuit for this weekend’s race, with Bottas completing his pole lap in just 53-seconds.

"We can all drive cars extremely quickly, and maybe it's just a car that suits George and probably suits a lot of other drivers as well," he explained.

"If you want to win a championship, you need to be in a Mercedes, so I think a lot of drivers could do something kind of similar and, at some races, bring the fight to Valtteri or bring a fight to Lewis.

“But there's a lot of traits which Lewis has, like his consistency to be able to be on pole the majority of the weekends and have flawless races without mistakes, those are his impressive traits.

"I think if we go to Abu Dhabi maybe you'll see a slightly different story. This is a track with four corners. If there's a track where maybe it's a bit easier for a driver to jump into a new car and do something special, it is probably here.

"So it'll be interesting to see if George was in the Mercedes next weekend in Abu Dhabi, whether it'll be the same story and whether he'd be even quicker, or whether he just struggles that little bit more because he doesn't know the Mercedes like the back of his hand like Valtteri would."