MANAMA: Four days ago George Russell would have dismissed the prospect of being on the front row of the Formula One grid as a joke but on Saturday he found himself very nearly on pole position for the Sakhir Grand Prix.
The 22-year-old Briton was parachuted into Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes seat at the last minute after the seven-times world champion tested positive for Covid-19.
Despite having never made it to the final stage of qualifying before, with his Williams team, Russell missed out on pole by just 0.026 seconds, with four-year Mercedes veteran Valtteri Bottas edging him to the fastest time.
“If you told me five days ago, four days ago, that I’d be qualifying second this weekend, I thought you’d be pulling my pants down,” Russell told reporters via video conference.
“First qualifying with Mercedes, second on the grid, 20 milliseconds behind pole — got to be pretty pleased.”
Russell is in his second season in Formula One, with Mercedes having placed him at their Grove-based engine customer Williams to learn the ropes. He has yet to score a point in the championship.
Yet no pressure had been put on his shoulders for Sunday’s race, Russell said, despite the fact that he was now driving the fastest car on the grid.
“Everyone at Mercedes — (team principal) Toto (Wolff), (technical director) James (Allison) — they just said, ‘Look, just go out and enjoy it’.
“‘If you qualify first two rows, top five, top six, fine, you can still get a podium from there.’
“But obviously I always want to do well, I always want to be happy with my own performance.”
Despite his showing in qualifying, Russell said he was not completely at home in Hamilton’s car.
“Comfort wise, still not perfect, very bruised and sore,” said the Briton, who is 11 cms taller than Hamilton and has found his compatriot’s cockpit a tight fit.
“I had ice on my shoulders last night to reduce some swelling and what have you, and knees, toes.”
His only aim in Sunday’s race was to drive his best, he said.
“Tomorrow I’m going to leave satisfied or disappointed depending on how I felt I did. I’m going in with an open mind and hope for the best.”