In Substitute Role, Russell Fastest In Bahrain

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George Russell was fastest in both Formula One practice sessions Friday at the Bahrain Int'l Circuit. (LAT Images Photo)
George Russell was fastest in both Formula One practice sessions Friday at the Bahrain Int'l Circuit. (LAT Images Photo)

SAKHIR, Bahrain – All eyes are on George Russell this weekend as he races in place of seven-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier in the week.

So far, the pressure hasn’t gotten to the young Englishman.

Russell was fastest in both practice sessions Friday on Bahrain Int’l Circuit’s oval configuration. He turned a fastest lap of 54.546 seconds during the opening practice and followed it up with a fast lap 54.713 seconds to lead the second practice as well.

Originally Valtteri Bottas was fastest in the second practice, but his fastest lap was deleted after he exceeded the track limits. Bottas ended up fourth in the first practice and 11th in the second.

“It was a good first day in the W11 but there’s definitely work to be done,” said Russell, who has spent the last two years racing for Williams before getting the call to replace Hamilton for the Sakhir Grand Prix. “The new track layout is very different to the usual layout here and it’s not an easy track to say the least. It’s going to be very tight in qualifying and we can probably expect a dramatic race. It’s been good to be working with the team today and I’m learning a lot every single lap I’m in the car. I think my lap times are a bit deceiving at the moment and not the true representation of the pace.

“I struggled on the high fuel runs in FP2 and ultimately that’s going to be key on Sunday. The Red Bulls were quick on the long runs and Valtteri was quickest in FP2 but had his lap time deleted. It’s going to be close, so we’ll get our heads down tonight. There’s still a lot of work to do to get comfortable in the car and with the set-up. But it’s been an encouraging first day and I’m excited to be back in W11 tomorrow.”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was second fastest overall behind Russell, with his time from the first practice putting him .176 seconds behind Russell. His Red Bull teammate, Alexander Albon, was third overall ahead of Racing Point’s Sergio Perez and Bottas.