Constructors’ champions Mercedes endured a difficult start to the 2022 F1 season in Bahrain, despite Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finishing third and fourth respectively
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George Russell has warned that the current struggles of Mercedes could last all season long as the constructors’ champions struggle to keep pace with Red Bull and Ferrari.
Russell, 24, actually secured his highest ever points finish at last weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix, surging from ninth on the grid to finish fourth. Team-mate Lewis Hamilton was third behind the Ferrari duo of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.
However, the result arguably glossed over a difficult three days for the Silver Arrows. After struggling in practice and qualifying, both Russell and Hamilton benefited from the two Red Bull drivers, Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, encountering late problems.
The gap in pace is unlikely to be breached ahead of the second race this week in Saudi Arabia, with team principal Toto Wolff admitting that a title tilt is currently an unrealistic unrealistic prospect. And Russell, who was ironically out-qualified on Saturday by Alfa Romeo driver Valtteri Bottas, the man he replaced, has echoed those sentiments.
The issue of porpoising, where a car vigorously bounces on its suspension, has been prevalent for Mercedes since pre-season testing and the 24-year-old doesn’t envisage it being sorted out anytime soon. “We hope it will be as soon as possible,” Russell said, as quoted by the Daily Mail , when asked if he could put a timescale on the problems.
“But there is no reason why it may not continue the whole year. It’s promising to see that other cars have had the same issue and they managed to solve it which means there is a solution there.
“But we are struggling to find it. It would have been brilliant if we solved it in testing where we had so much running, but we truly just don’t know how long it will take.”
Mercedes had been accused of ‘sandbagging’ by rivals in the two pre-season testing periods in Barcelona and then Bahrain, and deliberately under-performing to conceal their pace. World champion Max Verstappen was one to point at past campaigns, where the Silver Arrows claimed to have troubles only to then mount a championship challenge.
Following this Sunday’s race at the Jeddah Street Circuit, the F1 schedule will break for two weeks before the third Grand Prix in Melbourne. The gap will be welcomed by Wolff’s team in order to supply extra time to work on the W13 vehicles.
It is Ferrari though, who look the team to beat, with Leclerc and Sainz having notched their first one-two since 2019. And after the race team principal Mattia Binotto warned the Scuderia would be pushing hard to improve their cars harder.
“I’m pretty sure that at the next race we’re going to start pushing the car further,” he said. “That’s even more important now that we have a budget ceiling, so we can’t go wrong because we have only a few development opportunities.”
The Italian giants have not laid claim to a drivers’ crown since 2007, when Kimi Raikkonen beat then rookie Lewis Hamilton to the title. This time around appears the best chance since then to end the hoodoo.