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A Weekend Of Contrasts For Mercedes At Chinese GP

The first Chinese Grand Prix since 2019 has concluded, and it has been an up-and-down weekend for Mercedes.

The Chinese Grand Prix was the first of six Sprint weekends on the 2024 F1 calendar. As it was the first race in Shanghai since 2019, it was not expected to be the easiest of weekends for Mercedes, or any team. Furthermore, the sport’s first return to Shanghai in 4 years being a Sprint weekend added to the complications for the grid.

Mercedes who have been struggling since the introduction of the new regulations in 2022, had yet another complicated weekend. Mercedes were far from the fight for the podium, however, moments of individual brilliance from F1 veteran Lewis Hamilton and points finish for both drivers at the main race brought some positives for the Brackley team.

Free Practice 1

As this was a Sprint weekend, there was only one Free Practice session. The constraint of one Free Practice session added pressure in the paddock, as the goal would be to learn as much as possible in just one hour.

Mercedes made the gamble to only run on one set of Hard tyres in the allocated one hour. Expectedly, following that gamble, the Silver Arrows were quite low on the timesheets.

It was only P17 for George Russell, and P18 for Lewis Hamilton at the end of the session.

Sprint Qualifying

A few hours after Friday’s sole Free Practice session, Sprint Qualifying commenced. This session was meant to set the grid for Saturday’s Sprint race, and not the main race on Sunday.

Following the gamble to only run on the Hard tyres in the only Free Practice session, there were no expectations on the pace the Mercedes would carry in Sprint Qualifying.

There was the threat of rain from the moment the green light for SQ1 was given. The track remained dry, however, and both Mercedes only just made it through to SQ2. It was P12 and P13 for Hamilton and Russell respectively at the end of SQ1. At the end of SQ2, Mercedes still weren’t showing strong signs of pace. Hamilton barely made it through, as it was only P9 for him. As for Russell, he was eliminated, as he could only manage P11.

For SQ3, all of Mercedes’ hope was on Lewis Hamilton. Although the Mercedes did not look particularly strong, rain started pouring, changing everything. With rain, it would be more about the driver than the car underneath them. Hamilton who is widely known for delivering great performances in the wets, was spectacular during the wet SQ3 session. At one point, Hamilton had provisional pole, but McLaren’s Lando Norris snatched it from him.

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

Sprint

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At the Sprint race on Saturday, Hamilton had a great start, immediately challenging Norris for the lead. Under threat, Norris went off wide as they rounded the second part of the double right-hander and dramatically tumbled down the order. 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 went on to finish the 19-lap Sprint in P8. His teammate Hamilton who lost the lead to Max Verstappen on lap 9 went on to finish the Sprint in P2, behind the Red Bull.

Going into the Chinese GP weekend, Mercedes were not expected to be anywhere near the front. Therefore, the P2 Sprint race finish for Hamilton was a pleasant surprise for the Silver Arrows.

Grand Prix Qualifying

A few hours after Saturday’s Sprint, Qualifying for the main race was underway. In contrast to Sprint Qualifying, Hamilton had a poor session on Saturday, getting eliminated in Q1. After a massive lockup at Turn 14, Hamilton’s lap was only good enough for P18.

Russell on the other hand was able to go all the way through to Q3. He qualified P8 for Sunday’s race, looking like Mercedes’ best chance at a points finish.

Main race

Mercedes chose to start Hamilton on the Soft tyres, hoping that they would help him quickly make his way up the grid. Hamilton was among 4 other drivers on the grid to start on the softest tyre compound, which proved to be the wrong tyre choice. On lap 10, Hamilton pitted for Mediums, which was the tyre compound that Russell had started on.

On his mediums, had a better start, making up two places against the Ferraris of Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz right at the start. Leclerc however 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 made his way up to the points. Both Mercedes drivers managed their tyres well, and earned points for the team. It was P6 and P9 for Russell and Hamilton respectively.

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

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