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Hamilton: New Mercedes much nicer to drive

Mercedes’ much-changed 2024 car is proving “nicer to drive” than its ill-handling predecessor according to Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, who also said it is “not the diva that it was in the last two years”.

Sky Sports F1’s Anthony Davidson, meanwhile, believes the W15 “looks like a race car” judging by the way Russell and Hamilton, who have driven a full day apiece in the car at testing so far, were able to attack the Bahrain circuit.

“It’s such a difference to the car we were watching last time at this track,” declared Davidson.

After completing 123 laps on Thursday and setting the third-quickest time, Hamilton said: “We’ve clearly made an improvement with this year’s car and it’s much nicer to drive.

“A big thank you to everyone at Brackley and Brixworth for the efforts they’ve put in to deliver that over the past year. I’m really grateful for all their hard work.

“We’ve still got progress to make of course. But this is a good foundation for us to build on.”

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Mercedes driver George Russell praises the changes made to the car from last year and hopes they can compete for the top spots

Russell had been in the W15 for Wednesday’s opening day of testing, completing 122 laps, on the first full day of running for a car design that Mercedes have completely overhauled on the back of two disappointing seasons spent in the distant wake of Red Bull.

“It definitely is an improvement there’s no doubt about that,” said Russell in Thursday’s press conference.

“But you could have the worst car to drive but if it’s faster than everybody else you’ll be happy with it. So it was definitely pleasurable to drive [on Wednesday]. I had a good feeling within the car, but we know that all of the other teams have made a good step forward.”

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There was an entertaining end to the second day of testing as Lewis Hamilton impressed in his Mercedes

Mercedes have spent most of the first two days of testing focusing on longer runs and data gathering but Hamilton gave a first glimpse of the car’s speed with a lap on the C3 tyres late on Thursday which placed him third on the Day Two timesheet behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Red Bull’s Sergio Perez.

“Right now it’s definitely far too early to say,” said Russell about performance.

“We have a huge mountain to climb to catch up with what Red Bull were doing last year and how far ahead of everybody else they were. We need to wait and see but we have definitely got a much better platform to build upon and it’s not the diva that it was in the last two years.”

What has changed for Mercedes on track? Davidson assesses ‘very different’ car

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Sky Sports’ Ted Kravitz delves into Mercedes’ front wing after its legality was questioned

Having watched the W15 close up from trackside, and also from the commentary box, so far in Bahrain, Sky Sports’ Davidson believes it is already clear that this latest Mercedes is considerably more benign.

“It’s a very different car I see compared to last year in terms of how it behaves,” he said.

“Even into Turn Four, where the rear usually goes light on the exit, it’s pretty much there for him where he wants it.

“Little bit of understeer almost in the medium-speed of Turns Six and Seven.

“They are learning this car. It’s good in the slow speed, [it has] got the direction change he needs and has got the front end.

“It seems when it builds up a little bit of speed, the car is almost reluctant to turn in. That’s a huge change and a huge turnaround from the balance the car had last year.

“This car looks like a race car. It’s the kind of balance you would want to take into the race.”

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Pieces of debris bring up the first red flag of testing after we see both Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc running over a damaged kerb

Russell on how Mercedes have improved – but Red Bull why still ‘step ahead’

Explaining the issues he and Hamilton experienced with the W14, which failed to win a race, Russell said: “The car last year was really challenging to drive. Lewis and I had no confidence in it and it felt like it was going to bite us at every single corner. We couldn’t attack the medium and high-speed corners without the rear end snapping out.

“We feel like we have made a really good step in terms of the consistency of the car. We can really lean on it better than we have been able to lean on it in the past and this was a huge focus throughout last year.

“We saw many flaws with the W14 which the team have done a really great job to rectify and we have now got a car mechanically where the aero guys can go and focus on building downforce upon that.”

Mercedes have targeted a strong position in the chasing pack behind Red Bull at the start of the new season with the general expectation being that the reigning champions, who absolutely dominated last year, will remain the team to beat from next week’s season-opening grand prix in Bahrain.

Russell has seen no evidence at testing yet to change that viewpoint.

“We still haven’t seen truly yet where everybody has fallen out but Red Bull seem to have done a really great job again and they are no doubt favourites,” added the Briton of a team whose new car has evolved more than many expected.

“They [Red Bull] are definitely a step ahead of everyone else here in Bahrain. So they have had an impressive winter so doubt, but that was to be expected.”

Sky Sports F1’s pre-season testing schedule

Friday February 23 – Day Three

  • 6.50am-11.05am: Morning Session
  • 11.55am-4.05pm: Afternoon Session
  • 8pm: Testing Wrap
  • 8.30pm: Ted’s Testing Notebook
  • 9pm: Development Corner

When is the first F1 race?

Just one week after testing, the opening race of the 2024 season will begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29 to March 2.

Due to the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, the Bahrain and, seven days later, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, will be held on a Saturday.

This means practice one and two will take place on Thursdays, with final practice and qualifying on Fridays.

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