Despite the widespread belief that Max Verstappen and Red Bull have comfortably the best package ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix, George Russell still believes Mercedes can fight for the 2023 Formula 1 world titles.
The eight-time constructors’ champions endured a season to forget in 2022 as the sport entered a new era of technical regulations, with the W13 blighted by porpoising.
However, such was Mercedes‘ impressive rate of development throughout the campaign that Russell was able to secure his maiden victory at the Brazilian GP, and the Brit is confident the team will be able to close the gap a lot quicker in 2023.
“I think the way you saw our development last year with Mercedes, it was pretty, pretty spectacular over the course of a year,” Russell told the press.
“I think even the improvements we’re going to probably bring to the car this weekend compared to a test will take us a step closer.
“But it’s a very unique circuit here in Bahrain, I’ll be surprised if the gaps are that large at other circuits.
“But you know, I trust in our team and if we develop at the same rate as we did last year, we’re definitely starting from a higher point.
“The good thing is here is there’s not too many races at the start of the season, so it gives us some time to develop in the wind tunnel, and back at a factory to fight for when the main block of races come.”
Russell pinpoints Merc weaknesses
It wasn’t just porpoising that hindered Mercedes in 2022. Having enjoyed overwhelming engine supremacy for the best part of eight seasons in the turbo hybrid era, the Brackley-based outfit were one of the slowest in a straight line last year.
Testing wasn’t overly positive for the team in the speed traps but Russell thinks they may have been able to unlock some potential for this weekend’s race.
“I think naturally everybody’s always looking for for more downforce” he added, when asked what the W14 lacks compared to the RB19.
“And I think the tricky thing with these new regulations of car is trying to get the car as low as possible and gaining that downforce.
“We probably [need to] be a little bit more efficient in the straight line, Red Bull have been very strong, generally speaking, in their in their drag.
“I think we may have made a small step improvement this weekend so I hope that is reflected in the speed traps and that’s almost a bit of free lap time.
“But I think we need to trust in our process. Mercedes have built a world championship winning car for eight seasons in a row. We’ve still fundamentally got all of the same guys there. And they haven’t just forgotten how to build a fast race car.
“I think we were obviously on the backfoot following the challenges of the W13 but I absolutely believe as the season progresses, we’re definitely going to close that gap and there’s no reason why we can’t fight as the season hots up.”
‘Lewis is an animal’
One major positive for Russell in 2022 was that he got the better of teammate Lewis Hamilton, which few drivers have been able to do since the seven-time champion started his F1 career in 2007.
Russell is rightly proud of how he performed in 2022 but has tipped Hamilton to bounce back this season, citing his race pace as something that sets him apart.
“I think those stats against a guy like Lewis are pretty irrelevant. You know, he’s achieved 100 and more polls and victories and last year can lose a very challenging car to drive.
“For sure, I was pleased with my personal performance. I think the qualifying pace was, at the end of the year, we were basically identical.
“Race pace is maybe something I want to improve slightly. And I probably improved that towards the end of the year compared to Lewis, but you know, he’s just an animal, and he just keeps on fighting.
“So I think he’s going to come back fighting even more last year. And yeah, I’m excited to have that challenge but ultimately, the two of us are looking for the top step of the podium, and not just the number one spot in the team.”