Sports Desk, Dec 4 (efe-epa).- Behind the wheel of the Mercedes usually driven by Lewis Hamilton, George Russell was the fastest Friday in both practice sessions for the Formula One Sakhir Grand Prix in Bahrain.
With the seven-time world champion sidelined after testing positive for Covid-19, Mercedes turned to the Williams driver to pilot his British compatriot’s Silver Arrow in the penultimate race of the 2020 season.
And Russell, 22, made the most of the opportunity to swap the poorest performing car in F1 for the world-beating Mercedes.
The Sakhir event is taking place at the Bahrain International Circuit, which hosted last Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix, but the course has been shortened by nearly 2km (1.2mi) for this week’s race.
In Free Practice 1, Russell drove a fastest lap of 54.546, coming in 0.176s ahead of Dutchman Max Verstappen (Red Bull), whose teammate, Alex Albon of Thailand, was third.
The other Mercedes driver, Valtteri Bottas, had the fourth best time. The Finn is just 12 points ahead of Verstappen in the race for second in the driver standings.
Russell was a touch slower in FP2, with a best lap of 54.713, but still good enough for first place, followed again by Verstappen, while Albon dropped to fifth, behind Mexico’s Sergio “Checo” Perez (Racing Point) and Frenchman Esteban Ocon (Renault).
Racing Point declined to renew Perez’s contract for 2021 and Checo, who was poised to finish third in the Bahrain Grand Prix until a mechanical failure forced him to retire with a few laps left, said earlier this week that he is ready to sit out next season if Red Bull doesn’t offer him the seat now occupied by Albon.
Bottas fell all the way to 11th, right behind Spaniard Carlos Sainz (McLaren).
Places six through nine went to Russia’s Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri), Canadian driver Lance Stroll (Racing Point), Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) and the other half of the AlphaTauri team, Frenchman Pierre Gasly.
Friday’s session marked the F1 debut for Brazil’s Pietro Fittipaldi and Briton Jack Aitken, who were 18th and 19th, respectively, in FP2.
Pietro, grandson of racing legend Emerson Fittipaldi, was brought in by Haas to replace Romain Grosjean as the French driver continues his recuperation from the burns he suffered when his car burst into flames after crashing on the opening lap of the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Aitken took Russell’s spot with Williams. EFE