Filling in for Lewis Hamilton, George Russell paces Friday practices for the Sakhir GP

F1 season opener Bahrain
Hamad I Mohammed - Pool/Getty Images

SAKHIR, Bahrain — George Russell, the replacement Formula One driver for Lewis Hamilton this weekend, set the fastest time Friday in both practice sessions for the Sakhir Grand Prix.

Russell, given his chance with Mercedes after Hamilton tested positive for COVID-19, completed a lap of the desert track under floodlights in 54.546 seconds during the first session. Driving the No. 63 instead of Hamilton’s familiar No. 44, Russell’s time was 0.176 seconds faster than Red Bull driver Max Verstappen and 0.265 ahead of Alexander Albon.

In the latter session, Russell was 0.128 seconds ahead of Verstappen and 0.153 seconds ahead of Sergio Perez in third.

Hamilton, who already has clinched his seventh championship, is self-isolating for 10 days and could also miss the year’s final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

Russell, 22, has bigger feet than Hamilton and had to squeeze into Size 10 racing boots rather than his usual Size 11.

Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who is fighting to hold off Verstappen for second in the championship, was fourth quickest, 0.322 behind Russell.

Drivers are again racing at the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, but on a smaller, high-speed outer track.

Russell has been touted as the future of Formula One by Hamilton, and has the opportunity to showcase his talent in Sunday’s race.

“It means a huge amount to me that Mercedes gave me this opportunity, a lot of effort went into making this deal happen,” Russell said at a news conference Thursday. “I’m not putting any additional pressure on myself. No targets (set) or expectations from Mercedes.”

Russell was told by Mercedes’ head of motorsport Toto Wolff that he was replacing Hamilton in rather unusual circumstances.

“I got a phone call from Toto at 2 a.m. I was in the bathroom, which was slightly awkward,” Russell said. “Toto told me ‘We want you to drive.’ Obviously a bit of a sleepless night. I had 64 phone calls on Tuesday.”

Two weeks ago, Hamilton heaped praise on Russell, whose failure to score a point in 36 career races so far is more related to driving an uncompetitive Williams than a lack of ability.

“He really is the future,” Hamilton said. “I have no doubt that he has the potential to be a future champion.”

He has shown glimpses of his potential speed in beating teammates Nicholas Latifi and Robert Kubica 36-0 in qualifying over this season and last.

Highly rated at Mercedes having come through its junior program, Russell was reportedly under consideration to replace Valtteri Bottas this season, but Williams would not release him.

Russell’s move creates added pressure on Bottas, who has again been dominated by Hamilton this season and is fighting to hold off Red Bull’s Max Verstappen for second in the championship.

Hamilton has won 11 races and taken 10 pole positions; Bottas has two wins and four poles. The Finnish driver, prone to making mistakes under pressure, trails Hamilton by 131 points and leads Verstappen by only 12 — even though Verstappen has a slower car.

Now he faces the grim prospect of being beaten by someone who never has raced in a Mercedes F1 car.

“If he beats me, for sure it wouldn’t look so good,” Bottas, who already has re-signed for next season, said Thursday.

Supercross 2023: Results and points after Houston


Eli Tomac led all 23 laps of the Monster Energy Supercross race at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas and the results show he now has three wins in the season and is one shy of tying Ricky Carmichael’s 48 for third on the all-time list. With this win, he takes a seven point lead in the standings with 12 rounds remaining.

For Tomac at Houston, it was literally a tale of two races. Both his heat and the main started the same with Tomac grabbing the holeshot, but he was passed quickly by Chase Sexton in the heat. Tomac faded quickly after getting passed and was trailing by almost eight seconds at the checkered flag, which caused him to retreat to the hauler and reassess his lines. Without making any adjustments to the bike, Tomac entered the Main with a new attitude, and simply rode better.

Supercross Results Houston
Chase Sexton played it safe in the sand, but he was aggressive in every other turn. – Feld Motor Sports

Sexton had so great a lead in his heat that one could not even use the cliche that he left Tomac in his dust. By the time the rider with the No. 1 plate crossed the same real estate as the No. 23, the dust was well settled. Sexton had a modest start on the initial gate drop and ended Lap 1 in fourth. He worked his way past Aaron Plessinger on Lap 3 and got around Jason Anderson three laps later. Sexton was able to catch Tomac and pressure him, but he picked a safe, i.e. slow line through the sand section and could never get alongside his rival.

RESULTS: Click here for 450 Results; Click here for full 250 East Main Results

After starting the season with back-to-back seventh-place finishes, Anderson now has a pair of podiums. He won his heat and was easily one of the top three riders in the field, ultimately finishing behind the riders who finished 1-2 in the other preliminary. Anderson was subdued on the podium – happy he was there, but disappointed he has not yet found a way around the riders he is chasing in the points.

In the early stages of the race, Plessinger appeared to have a bike capable of winning. He pressured Tomac on the first two laps and was setting up the pass just as a red flag waved for an injury to Dylan Ferrandis that brought out a red flag. He lost second to Anderson on the restart and eventually slipped to fourth to score his first top-five of the season.

Click here for 450 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

Cooper Webb rounded out the top five. Along with Sexton, he is now one of just two riders with a sweep of that mark in 2023, but with Tomac’s three wins, he is beginning to slip in the points. Webb sits third in the standings, 12 points behind the leader.

Ken Roczen entered the race as the third rider with a sweep of the top five and progressively better results in the first three races of 2023. Had the pattern held, he would have finished at least second, but he struggled for most of the night, finishing fifth in his heat and eighth in the Main. There may have been extenuating circumstances, however. Ferrandis’ injury was suffered when he landed on the back of Roczen’s bike and potentially damaged the No. 94 Suzuki.

Click here for 450 Main results | Rider Points | Manufacturer Points | Lap Chart

The 250 East division made their 2023 debut in Houston, but the name atop the board was familiar. Hunter Lawrence joined his brother Jett Lawrence as the early points’ leader in their respective divisions, but it didn’t come without a little anxiety.

Riding behind Supercross newbie Tom Vialle on the second lap, Lawrence was forced to take evasive action when the leader pitched his bike sideways to scrub speed over a jump. Lawrence veered left and landed off course, but he cleared the Tuff Blox and kept his bike straight. Lawrence made the pass for the lead on Lap 18 and never relinquished it.

Click here for 250 Heat 1 | Heat 2 | Last Chance Qualifier

In his first attempt on a 250, Max Anstie ascended to the podium. – Feld Motor Sports

England’s Max Anstie made the move from 450s to 250s this year after scoring a best result of 11th on the big bike at Anaheim 2 last year. It didn’t take anytime at all to find the front for Anstie, who finished second in both his heat and main.

It has been a while since Jordon Smith stood on the podium: February 23, 2019 to be exact when he finished that well in Detroit. A series of injuries kept him off the bike for much of 2020 and 2021, but he’s proving to be a factor when he’s healthy.

Click here for 250 Main results | 250 East Rider Points | Combined Rider Points | Lap Chart

There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of Haiden Deegan in the 250 class and he proved it was merited. He finished fourth in his heat and main. He was as far down as ninth at one point in the feature before slowly picking off riders on his way to the front.

Jeremy Martin finished fifth and now has a streak of three consecutive top-fives to his credit stretching back to last year. Unfortunately, his pair of strong runs in 2022 were interrupted by injury.

Making impressive debuts in the 250 division, Vialle recovered from a fall to finish seventh, Chance Hymas finished eighth, and Talon Hawkins just missed the top 10 with an 11th.

2023 Results

Race 3: Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen win
Race 2: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence win
Round 1: Tomac, Lawrence win

2023 SuperMotocross Power Rankings

Week 3: Ken Roczen takes the top spot
Week 2: Roczen moves up; Chase Sexton falls
Week 1: Eli Tomac tops 450s; Jett Lawrence 250s