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Russell hails third as ‘great place’ to start in Bahrain while Hamilton explains set-up ‘risk’ en route to P9

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George Russell praised the Mercedes workforce for an “amazing job” as he started the 2024 season with a morale-boosting top-three qualifying result at the Bahrain International Circuit.

After two relatively challenging seasons under F1’s latest ground effect era, the Silver Arrows appear to have made a breakthrough with their new W15 – both Russell and team mate Lewis Hamilton talking up the team’s progress in testing and then topping Thursday practice at Sakhir.

READ MORE: Verstappen beats Leclerc and Russell to pole for season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix

When the talking stopped in the first competitive session of the year, Russell emerged with a second-row starting slot, behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, leaving the Briton proud of his and the team’s efforts.

Asked if it marks a big step forward for Mercedes, Russell said: “Absolutely. Everybody at the factory has done an amazing job to give Lewis and I a car we feel much happier with, a base that we can build upon.

Qualifying Highlights: 2024 Bahrain Grand Prix

“But ultimately Max is still out there in front, we’ve still got some catching up to do. But I think when we look at our qualifying performances of the last two years in Bahrain and our race pace, starting P3 from tomorrow is a great place.”

He continued: “We’ve had some really great drivers back at base doing work in the simulator, Lewis and I have been back on the simulator as well, fine-tuning the set-up, making some improvements.

READ MORE: ‘We have a lot of work ahead of us’ – Alpine drivers say double-Q1 exit ‘not a surprise’ in Bahrain

“Time will tell tomorrow. We’ve obviously made a big step forward in single lap and qualifying pace, we hope we haven’t compromised the race pace at all. I think it will be a close fight between everybody other than Max.”

Pushed on whether he’s dreaming of the win, Russell signed off: “No. I think obviously Red Bull are so strong at moment, Max is doing a really great job – he’s got the new tyres as well.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - MARCH 01: 9th placed qualifier Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes

Hamilton had to settle for ninth position in the first qualifying session of the season

“I think if there’s an opportunity to take the lead we’ll go for it, but ultimately I think the race for all of us is for second. But, as I said, nobody knows, it’s the first race of the season, it’s so exciting to be back and let’s hope for some craziness.”

On the other side of the Mercedes garage, Hamilton ended up ninth quickest – two-tenths away from Russell – as he revealed a change of set-up direction following Thursday practice.

AS IT HAPPENED: Follow all the action from qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix

“It was a fun session,” he commented. “It’s not the result obviously that I wanted, but these things happen. I wouldn’t say that I’m surprised [at the result].

“I went in a direction… I’m always taking risks, so I went in a direction with my set-up and it was just, even from P3 [final practice], it was possibly not the right one, but I think hopefully the right one for the race.”

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