When Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc slammed into the barrier on the formation lap of the São Paulo Grand Prix on Sunday, Mercedes fans must have felt it was going to be their day. With Ferrari down to just one driver, and Mercedes slated to have both Lewis Hamilton and George Russell set to start in the top six, ahead of. Carlos Sainz Jr., the Silver Arrows had the advantage.
But after a dismal Sunday that saw both Russell and Hamilton struggle with tire degradation — and Russell eventually retire early — Ferrari actually managed to gain ground in the fight for second, as Sainz finished in sixth, two spots ahead of Hamilton. Now the two teams will head to the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix with it all to fight for, and Mercedes searching for answers.
“Clearly, we’ve got something very wrong with the setup. We’ve had the pace to fight for podiums in the recent races and today we were barely able to fight for points,” said Andrew Shovlin, the team’s Trackside Engineering Director, in Mercedes’ post-race report. “We’re obviously disappointed and we will work hard to understand and fix what we got wrong this weekend.”
Missed opportunities like Sunday have been a story for Mercedes in recent weeks. The team believed that Hamilton had brought home a podium at the United States Grand Prix, with a second-place finish. But a post-race inspection found a violation on the plank below Hamilton’s W14, and the driver was disqualified.
The Qatar Grand Prix was another missed opportunity for the team. Mercedes put both Hamilton and Russell into the top three during qualifying, but the teammates collided on the opening lap. While Russell was able to fight back into fourth place from the rear of the field, Hamilton retired having failed to complete a lap.
“Today was clearly a very poor performance,” said Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff. “This car finished on the podium last week in Mexico so whatever we did to it here did not work. We are not usually at our strongest on sprint weekends, but that doesn’t explain how challenging this weekend was.”
Both Hamilton and Russell — who seemed especially frustrated at various points on Sunday — were unable to offer answers as to what went wrong.
“It’s difficult to say why we struggled so much this weekend. There are moments with this car when it works and others when it doesn’t,” said the seven-time World Champion Hamilton. “It’s very inconsistent throughout the lap and we need to figure that out. Today, we were slow on the straights but still sliding through the corners, so it was difficult.”
“We obviously got something very wrong this weekend. We’re not sure what that was yet but the pace just hasn’t been there,” added Russell. “You clearly don’t go from a podium-worthy car to one that is one second off the front, so it’s been very strange.”
Even with the struggles, Mercedes heads to Las Vegas ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors’ standings. While Ferrari managed to inch two points closer in the standings, thanks to the sixth-place finish from Sainz, the Silver Arrows are still ahead in this fight. Furthermore, with São Paulo being the final F1 Sprint race of the season, there are just two races left.
And this might give Mercedes a chance to get into a better rhythm. As noted by Wolff, the team has not been at their best during sprint weekends. At the first Sprint race of the season, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Mercedes banked 20 points on the weekend.
Ferrari added 36.
At the second Sprint race of the season, the Austrian Grand Prix, it was a similar story. Mercedes tallied just 11 points, while Ferrari added 32.
In fact, over the six Sprint races this season, Ferrari outscored Mercedes in four of them. The two finished level in the fifth — as they both netted 24 points at the Belgian Grand Prix — and Mercedes managed to come out ahead, 21-13, in Qatar.
Perhaps two traditional race weekends will be the medicine Mercedes is looking for.
Starting with the inaugural Las Vegas Grand Prix.