No Matter how good the car, it was always going to be a tough ask for George Russel, with four hours in the Mercedes W11, to beat Valtteri Bottas with around 150 hours of seat time in the same championship-winning car.
But in qualifying for the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, substituting for ill Lewis Hamilton, George came desperately close – 0.026 close – to stunning the Formula 1 world.
Although the #63 car will start from second place on the grid, his shares soared to giddy heights on Saturday night and he gets a second crack at turning this opportunity into F1 legend tomorrow evening in Bahrain.
Pumped up and clearly relishing the occasion, George said after his sparkling performance, “Valtteri has pushed Lewis a huge amount in qualifying over the years, so I’m really pleased to have finished Q3 just behind him and to be on the front row for tomorrow.
“It’s been incredibly intense with so much to learn and such a different way of driving in this car. I tried a lot of things in FP3, which didn’t go well at all. After final practise, I’d have been happy to just get through to Q3, so I was a bit nervous heading into qualifying. But I managed to get in the groove and was getting better and better every lap.
“Obviously, I’m a bit gutted to miss out on pole by 20 milliseconds, but if you’d told me last week that I’d be qualifying P2 on the grid, I wouldn’t have believed you. I’ve got nobody in front of me tomorrow, which I’ve not experienced for a long time.
“It’s going to be a really tricky race on such a short track layout, but we’re in a good position starting on the Mediums. I’ll give it my all and see what I can do,” promised the 22-year-old.
Team boss Toto Wolff added in the team report, “Scoring a front-row lockout in such a close qualifying session is a fantastic result for the team. This circuit is so short and with lap times below one minute, it was always going to produce very tight gaps and we saw that with less than a tenth between P1 and P3.
“George has settled in really well, particularly when you consider the circumstances, so I’m really pleased with his performance and it’s great to see him up there on the front row.
“This obviously puts us in a good position for tomorrow and we’re starting on the Medium tyre, which we feel is the best compound for the race. It’s going to be challenging and a bit of a step into the unknown on this track and with so many laps.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what happens and it’s sure to be very exciting,” added the Austrian whose team is hunting their 14th win of the season, and the 105th win for Mercedes under his charge.