Shanghai, China - Lewis Hamilton will be going for a record sixth Chinese Grand Prix win this week with Mercedes aiming to bring its 'A game' for a quick 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.
Vettel and Hamilton are each chasing a fifth world championship, but Hamilton has been the most successful driver by far in the 14-year history of the race at the Shanghai International Circuit with five wins. Another victory 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."
Back to back
In Australia, the combination of a Virtual Safety Car intervention and a software bug deprived Hamilton of victory, while a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change and communications problems in Bahrain hampered the defending world champion from charging for victory in the race, although Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton still managed to take second and third for Mercedes.
"We're quite happy that this is a back-to-back race," said Wolff. "That means that we won't have to wait long to get racing again - and Shanghai has been a good circuit for us in the past."
Mercedes has won five times in the past six Chinese Grands Prix, with Fernando Alonso in 2013 recording the last Ferrari victory in Shanghai.
The Silver Arrows 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, who admitted earlier this week he had little idea how or why Ferrari had been able to out-perform Mercedes.
17 points down
"I'm thinking and wondering," said Hamilton. "My thoughts are already on the world championship - I’ve lost two races in a row now and I'm 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 that put Verstappen out of the running and prompted Hamilton to call him a "dickhead" immediately after the race; Vettel than raised eyebrows by being first to leap to Hamilton's defence.
"It's not fair," he said. "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."