Mercedes’ Andrew Shovlin on “impressive” George Russell

© Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.

Mercedes Trackside Engineering Director Andrew Shovlin says the team was impressed with how George Russell handled the pressure of replacing Lewis Hamilton.

George Russell impressed everyone with his performance during the Sakhir Grand Prix weekend. He topped two free practice sessions, qualified in P2, just 0.026s behind Valtteri Bottas, and almost won the race (were it not for a pit stop mix-up and a tyre puncture). Shovlin says the Briton’s performance wasn’t surprising to Mercedes.

“Probably the thing that was least surprising was his speed in qualifying,” said Shovlin.

“Because if you look at what he’d been doing in the Williams, clearly he knows how to drive a car quickly. And he knows how to get the most out of it.

“So that was not a complete shock to me, it was kind of what we were hoping to see, and what we were pleased that we did see.

“How he handled the pressure, that’s the harder thing to really predict, how he’s going to get on. But that was very impressive, actually, he really attacked the session.

“The risk – if this is one opportunity to show what you can do in a fast car – is it’s so easy to get it wrong. And it’s so easy to create lasting impressions.

“But clearly, he wasn’t thinking about that for a second. He really attacked the session. He was confident, he was disciplined. He was methodical in how he approached each run.

“At times, we were under pressure with both drivers in the early part of it. And he stayed calm, and that was nice to see. He’s clearly a very good racing driver.”

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Since Russell jumped into the W11 for the first time on Friday, with very little notice, the team did their best to help him adjust.

“We were just trying to feed the information to him in a way that wasn’t going to overwhelm him,” he said.

“We weren’t telling him things on Thursday night that he didn’t need to know until Sunday morning. So we tried to have a sort of structured approach, as it’s quite a difficult thing for the drivers to jump from one team to another, one car to another.

“And he obviously did a good job, and in some ways our car will be easier than the Williams that he normally drives because it’s quite a nice handling car, there aren’t any major vices, it’s got good grip. So in some ways that direction is easier.

“But the fact is the performance envelope of our car is much bigger. And you can brake later, you can get on the throttle sooner, you can be more aggressive with it, and the car will look after you and, and not catch you out as much as some others, and you can carry much more speed into corners.

“And it’s just sort of understanding that. And it takes more than one race to really build up a sort of full appreciation of what the car can do.

“One of the things that he was sort of chipping away at was just understanding how late you can actually brake for Turn 1, and how much speed you can carry into Turn 7 and 8.

“He’s done a good job, he’s approached that methodically. And importantly, he’s done it without going over the limit. Because you go over the limit, and then you can end up with some significant consequences.”

However, since the Briton is one of the tallest drivers on the grid, Shovlin says it wasn’t easy to fit him into the car.

“It was difficult. And it’s been made difficult by the fact that we’ve not had such a tall driver for a very, very long time.

“And every year, as you’re looking for what can you squeeze, something here and there, and work on the packaging, and put a bit more performance on the thing, it becomes a less and less comfortable environment for a guy who’s quite a bit over six foot tall.

“It’s not just physically things being in the way, and not being able to have your normal seating position. Also it’s painful, because we can’t quite get enough space for him.

“So he’s being pinched, and the seat is not quite perfect. And so it’s not just that you’re cramped, it actually hurts to drive. He was determined to fit. And he was determined to be able to drive it.

“But it won’t be a perfect environment for him,” concluded Shovlin.

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