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Russell says Mercedes have cured ‘diva’ characteristics of recent years – but Red Bull ‘100% favourites’ for 2024

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 22: George Russell of Great Britain and Mercedes attends Drivers Press

George Russell has expressed further optimism over the steps Mercedes appear to have made over the winter, but he still feels Red Bull will be the team to beat at the start of the 2024 season.

After their first official days at the wheel during pre-season testing in Bahrain, Russell and team mate Lewis Hamilton both declared that the W15 is “nicer” to drive than its predecessor. Russell would then go on to clock the second-fastest time on day three of the test out in Bahrain.

READ MORE: New Mercedes ‘feels nicer to drive’ than previous car as Russell assesses first day of testing

Expanding on those initial comments during an appearance in the mid-test drivers’ press conference, Russell said: “It was great to be back in the car, driving the W15 for the first time, and it does feel a step in the right direction.

“But there’s no hiding that our competitors have also done a really great job. We know we had a mountain to climb with the form that Red Bull showed last year. For anybody to overcome that gap would be a huge test, but definitely the car is feeling nice to drive.

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 21: George Russell of Great Britain driving the (63) Mercedes AMG

Russell and Hamilton have both spoken positively about the new Mercedes W15

“Ultimately, it’s down to lap times. We still haven’t seen truly yet where everybody is falling out but Red Bull seem to have done a really great job again, and they are no doubt the favourites… 100%.”

He added: “It’s as you’d expect from Red Bull, they’re in such a great momentum at the moment. They started these new regulations on the front foot and they came here and have been solid ever since. So they are, as I said, they’re definitely favourites.

READ MORE: Bullish Hamilton doubles down on Russell’s positive comments after first run in Mercedes W15

“They’re definitely a step ahead of everybody else here in Bahrain. They’ve had an impressive winter, no doubt, but that was to be expected. [They’re] such an impressive team and outfit and we need to see where we fall out in the coming races.”

Bringing it back to Mercedes, Russell did share that the Brackley team have a “much better platform” with the W15, saying “it’s not the diva that it was in the last two years”.

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“The car last year was really challenging to drive – Lewis and I had no confidence in it,” he said. “It felt like it was going to bite us every single corner. We couldn’t attack the medium and high-speed corners without the rear-end snapping out.

“We feel like we made a really good step in terms of the consistency of the car. We can really lean on it better than we’ve been able to in the past and this was a huge focus throughout last year with the W14, which the team has done a really great job to rectify.

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“We’ve now got a car mechanically where the aero guys can go and focus on building downforce upon that. Whereas in the past, you know, whatever we did aerodynamically, there was underlying issues with the race car that took a while to understand.”

Russell, Hamilton and the rest of the F1 grid will now gear up for the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix at the same Sakhir venue from February 29 to 2.

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