Lewis Hamilton goes for a record sixth Chinese Grand Prix win this week in Shanghai with Mercedes aiming to bring their “A-game” for a crucial strike back at unbeaten Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel.
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.
“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.