Mercedes’ poor start to the season looked set to continue when it struggled through Friday practice, but after overnight work the team unearthed more performance for qualifying.
While Lewis Hamilton still struggled to get to grips with certain characteristics of the W14, team-mate Russell made a step forward by qualifying fourth, which became third after Charles Leclerc’s grid penalty.
It led to Russell saying after qualifying that Mercedes gained “more performance in a week than we found in almost a month”.
Mercedes’ race pace also took a step forward, with both cars outperforming the Ferraris. Amid confusion over Fernando Alonso’s final results, Russell was briefly handed third but he was eventually confirmed as fourth ahead of Hamilton.
While the team is not getting carried away by its sudden improvement from Bahrain to Jeddah – a more radical concept change is still in the works – Russell does feel optimistic that there is more to come from the Brackley team on the short term.
“We definitely made a step in the right direction,” Russell said. “I think, above all, we just truly maximised the potential of the car.
“We had a really strong qualifying, which was really enjoyable. I was really pleased to come home in P4 on the road because I felt like that was the maximum that was possible. And I was having fun up there.
George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes F1 W14
Photo by: Steve Etherington / Motorsport Images
“The car was feeling good. And we know we’ve got some more performance in the locker in some races to come.”
When asked earlier in the weekend when Mercedes’ next significant steps might come, Russel said May’s Emilia Romagna Grand Prix is the most likely target.
“Maybe Imola time,” he said. “Perhaps you can bring it a bit earlier, but I guess you’re always a bit wary to bring things to a street track.
“We just need to weigh up the options. With the mistakes we’ve made we’re not going to rush to bring things forward, unless we’re absolutely 120% sure it’s the right one.
“And obviously, the longer you wait, the bigger impact you can have because of the development slope, so we need to weigh up the pros and cons.
“We want to be winning races this year, that’s where we want to be. Of course, we’d love to be fighting for the championship, but Red Bull is just doing an excellent job.
“The gap they’ve got to the rest of the field is bigger than we’ve seen in F1 for six, seven or eight years, so it’s pretty impressive.”