Shanghai (AFP) – Lewis Hamilton goes for a record sixth Chinese Grand Prix win this week with Mercedes aiming to bring their “A game” for a quick strike back at unbeaten Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.
Germany’s Vettel and Ferrari stole a march on the Silver Arrows with victory in Australia to open the Formula One season and followed up with a tense triumph last weekend in Bahrain.
Both Vettel and Hamilton are chasing a fifth world championship, but the Englishman has easily been the most successful driver in the 14-year history of the race at the Shanghai International Circuit with five wins.
Another triumph will help Mercedes get back on track after early season blunders that prompted a bout of hand-wringing in the team.
“This is not the start to the 2018 season we had hoped for,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff this week.
“There is absolutely no margin for imperfections or mistakes in this year’s title fight. In order to win this year, we need to bring our A game.”
In Australia, the combination of a Virtual Safety Car intervention and a software bug deprived defending world champion Hamilton of victory.
While a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change and communications problems in Bahrain hampered the Englishman from charging for victory in the race.
Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton still managed to take second and third place for Mercedes.
– No margin for error –
“We’re quite happy that this is a back-to-back race as that means that we won’t have to wait long to get racing again,” said Wolff.
“Shanghai has been a good track for us in the past.” Mercedes have won five times in the last six Chinese Grands Prix, with Fernando Alonso in 2013 recording the last Ferrari victory in Shanghai.
Mercedes need to counter the early-season pace and form of Vettel, who somehow managed to last 39 laps on severely-worn tyres in Bahrain to take a 17-point lead in the standings ahead of Hamilton.
The 33-year-old four-time world champion admitted earlier this week he had little idea how or why Ferrari had been able to out-perform Mercedes. “I am thinking and wondering,” said Hamilton.
“My thoughts are already on the world championship -– I’ve lost two races in a row now and I am 17 points down after just two races.
“Hopefully, when we go to China for the next race, we will have a better understanding of the tyres and put up a better fight against Ferrari.”
He will be hoping Red Bull’s young star Max Verstappen stays out of his way after a collision which put the Dutchman out of the race and prompted Hamilton to call him a “dickhead” straight after.
Vettel raised eyebrows by being first to leap to Hamilton’s defence. “It’s not fair. I don’t know what Lewis did, but we’ve all been in that situation.
“We are just racing, we are full of adrenalin and we say these things.”