Shanghai — Lewis Hamilton goes for a record sixth Chinese Grand Prix win this weekend 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 triumph last weekend in Bahrain.
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 prompted a bout of hand-wringing in the team. But Hamilton denied Mercedes was in trouble, saying its wide-ranging problems so far just point to the difficulty of keeping a team firing on all cylinders in each contest.
"The A game applies to everything. There are so many things that keep the ball afloat," Hamilton said. "I still believe we’re the best team."
In Australia, the combination of a virtual safety car intervention and a software bug deprived defending world champion Hamilton of victory.
In Bahrain, a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change and communications problems held back the Englishman. Valtteri Bottas and Hamilton still managed to take second and third place for Mercedes.
But Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said this week it was "not the start to the 2018 season we had hoped for".
"There is absolutely no margin for imperfections or mistakes in this year’s title fight.
"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 recording the last Ferrari victory in Shanghai in 2013.
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.
Hamilton will be hoping Red Bull’s young star Max Verstappen stays out of his way after a collision in Bahrain that put the Dutchman out of the race and prompted Hamilton to call him a "dickhead".
Hamilton said he apologised to Verstappen on Thursday in Shanghai.