A weekend full of contrasts for Mercedes during the Chinese GP

The first Chinese Grand Prix since 2019 is behind us and it was an up and down weekend for Mercedes.

The Chinese Grand Prix was the first of six sprint weekends on the 2024 F1 calendar. Being the first race in Shanghai since 2019, it was not expected to be the easiest weekend for Mercedes, or any team for that matter. Furthermore, the sport’s first return to Shanghai in four years, as a sprint weekend, created additional complications on the grid.

Mercedes, which has been struggling since the introduction of the new regulations in 2022, had another complicated weekend. Mercedes were still far from contention for the podium, but moments of individual brilliance from F1 veteran Lewis Hamilton and points finishes for both drivers in the feature race brought some positives for the Brackley team.

Free exercise 1

Since this was a sprint weekend, there was only one free practice session. The restriction of one free practice session added extra pressure in the paddock, as the aim would be to learn as much as possible in just one hour.

Mercedes took the gamble of running only one set of hard tires within the allotted hour. The Silver Arrows were expected to be quite low on the timesheets after that gamble.

At the end of the session it was only P17 for George Russell and P18 for Lewis Hamilton.

Sprint qualification

A few hours after Friday’s only free practice, the sprint qualifying started. This session was intended to set the grid for Saturday’s sprint race, and not for Sunday’s main race.

After the gamble of only driving on the hard tires during the only free practice session, there were no expectations about the pace that the Mercedes would maintain in the sprint qualifying.

From the moment the green light was given for SQ1, there was the threat of rain. However, the track remained dry and both Mercedes only just reached SQ2. It was P12 and P13 respectively for Hamilton and Russell at the end of SQ1. At the end of SQ2, Mercedes were still not showing strong signs of pace. Hamilton barely got through as it was only P9 for him. As for Russell, he was eliminated as he could only get P11.

For SQ3, all Mercedes’ hopes were pinned on Lewis Hamilton. Although the Mercedes didn’t look particularly strong, it started to rain, which changed everything. In the rain it would be more about the driver than the car underneath. Hamilton, who is widely known for his great wet performance, was spectacular in the wet SQ3 session. At one point Hamilton had provisional pole, but McLaren’s Lando Norris took it from him.

Nevertheless, it was a front row start for Mercedes with Lewis Hamilton.

Sprint

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In the sprint race on Saturday, Hamilton had a great start and immediately challenged Norris for the lead. Under threat, Norris went wide as they rounded the second part of the double right-hander and tumbled down dramatically. Hamilton therefore led the race with Alonso and Verstappen behind him.

Meanwhile, Russell, who had started on the Soft tyres, made his way up to P10 on lap 4. Russell finished the 19-lap sprint in P8. His teammate Hamilton, who lost the lead to Max Verstappen on lap 9, finished the sprint in P2, behind the Red Bull.

Going into the Chinese GP weekend, Mercedes was not expected to be anywhere near the front. That’s why Hamilton’s P2 sprint race finish was a pleasant surprise for the Silver Arrows.

Grand Prix Qualification

A few hours after Saturday’s sprint, qualifying for the main race was underway. In contrast to the sprint qualifying, Hamilton had a bad session on Saturday and was eliminated in Q1. After a huge lock-up in Turn 14, Hamilton’s lap was only good enough for P18.

Russell, on the other hand, was able to progress all the way to Q3. He qualified eighth for Sunday’s race and appeared to be Mercedes’ best chance of a points finish.

Main breed

Mercedes opted to start Hamilton on the Soft tires, hoping they would help him move up the grid quickly. Hamilton was one of four other drivers on the grid to start on the softest tire compound, which turned out to be the wrong tire choice. On lap 10, Hamilton pitted for Mediums, the tire compound Russell had started with.

On his mediums he had a better start and immediately made up two places against the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz. However, Leclerc took P6 from Russell on lap 9, and on lap 10 Russell pitted for a new set of Mediums.

Two pit stops later – for each driver – Hamilton had reached the points. Both Mercedes drivers managed their tires well and earned points for the team. They were P6 and P9 respectively for Russell and Hamilton.

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Russell drove well throughout the race, and Hamilton, who struggled at the start, made a great recovery drive to give the Silver Arrows double points at the Chinese Grand Prix.

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