Lewis Hamilton unveils Bahrain GP plan after George Russell crushes Mercedes teammate in qualifying

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Lewis Hamilton revealed he used a different setup on his car for Saturday’s Formula 1 Bahrain Grand Prix to deliver an improved race result after being thrashed by George Russell in qualifying on Friday.

The 39-year-old will start the race from ninth on the grid alongside Haas driver Nico Hulkenberg after struggling to find pace in the W15, just 24 hours after topping the timing sheets in the second free practice session.

Hamilton was eight-tenths slower than Russell on his first run and, while improving on the second attempt as the track ramped up, the seven-time world champion was still two tenths down on his colleague.

When quizzed about their contrasting performances, Hamilton admitted he had deviated from the same path as Russell when selecting his car setup – but hopes the pain felt in qualifying will result in a better race finish.

“Yesterday, George and I were [on] identical car setups. I was doing great, then he went one way and I went another,” Hamilton told F1TV in Bahrain. “You could say the one I was on was not good over a single lap, but I hope it’s better in the race.

“I wasn’t comfortable with my race pace, so I changed my car to hopefully make the race pace better. We’ll see tomorrow if that’s really the case but I’m trying to find a balance because there’s a lot of degradation with the rears and race pace really is everything here.”

Things were made worse for the seven-time champion by the fact that Russell managed to put his car on the second row of the grid, qualifying behind only polesitter Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc. It was an impressive display from Russell, who will step up as the team’s leading driver in 2025 when Hamilton leaves for Ferrari.

Mercedes getting closer

Russell scored his best qualifying result since Qatar last year when he was second on the grid, and was surprised with the pace at his disposal.

However, the 26-year-old agreed with Hamilton that race pace would be the ultimate way of defining how much progress Mercedes have made, and said he was surprised by just how close he came to pulling off a shock at the front of the grid.

“Yeah, we’ve challenged… I think it was better than expected,” Russell added in the post-qualifying press conference.

“I think we all knew it was going to be very, very close between ourselves Ferrari, Aston [Martin], McLaren, and Checo [Sergio Perez] and I think the gap in qualifying today was probably slightly closer to Max than we all expected.

“I think race pace is the important one. We’re expecting probably a half second deficit. That’s what we thought after testing. We’ll see see tomorrow.”

George Russell at 2023 Las Vegas Grand Prix | Mercedes / Sebastian Kawka
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan
Joe Krishnan is an NCTJ-qualified journalist who has worked for a number of media organisations, including the Daily Express, The Mirror, Evening Standard, The Independent and Bleacher Report. Joe has been following F1 since when he watched Mika Hakkinen clinch the 1999 drivers' championship, and his first taste of real-life racing action was watching David Coulthard spin off into the gravel at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 2001.
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