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F1: after Russell’s sensational defence and Hamilton’s pace, are Mercedes back?

Mercedes brought some upgrades to the Spanish Grand Prix, and they seem to have done the trick…

Published: 23 May 2022

This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix was, for once, quite exciting. Scorching track temperatures forced most teams onto a hectic three-stop strategy, there were battles for the lead, a cruel retirement, team orders drama, and even a rogue gust of wind giving the leading pack a gentle shove towards the gravel.

And for the first time in 2022, it wasn’t just a two horse race between Ferrari and Red Bull. Mercedes have finally worked out why their car has been bouncing so much, and an updated floor seems to have cured the worst of the ‘porpoising’ that has no doubt been giving Lewis Hamilton and George Russell throbbing post-race headaches.

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Not that a sore cranium has stopped Russell lately. The 24-year-old has made a brilliant start to his Mercedes career, routinely finishing in the top five in every race so far in a car that - this weekend aside - hasn’t always deserved to be there. He’s now a sizeable 28 points ahead of his teammate, and while you can argue that Hamilton has had plenty of bad luck recently, the fact remains that the seven-time champ hasn’t finished ahead of Russell since the curtain-raiser in Bahrain. Fair play, George.

Having secured fourth place in qualifying on Saturday - Merc’s best result of the season to date - Russell was then unexpectedly a factor in the fight for the win, jumping Sergio Perez at the start and then keeping Max Verstappen at bay after the Dutchman’s wind-assisted spin. A troublesome DRS meant the Red Bull driver couldn’t simply sweep back past, and the ensuing tussle was the best wheel-to-wheel action of the race.

Especially that sequence of moves on lap 24, which is already destined for the end-of-year highlights reel. Verstappen finally got a run on Russell and dived for the inside of the first corner, but somehow the Brit surged back round the outside to edge ahead again. Go watch it back and see how Russell positions his car through that sector to stay in front. Incredible defending.

At that point Hamilton was still 19th, playing catch-up after his collision with Kevin Magnussen on the opening lap. A dejected Lewis suggested the team should retire the car to save the engine for another day, only to be told that eighth place was still on even without a safety car.

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No safety car came, but Hamilton still exceeded what the Mercedes computer said was possible. At various points in the race the 37-year-old was the fastest driver on track, and having fallen almost a full minute behind the race leader at the start he was back within 40 seconds with two laps to go. Whisper it quietly, but that rather suggests Merc is back in business. And Toto Wolff said afterwards “there’s definitely more to come”. Ominous.

Could a championship challenge be on the cards after all? Hamilton had written off the team’s chances of winning anything not that long ago, but now sounds far more upbeat. “The car felt great in the race, our pace is closer to the top guys which is amazing,” he said. “If I didn’t have that issue at the beginning, who knows where we’d have been at the end?”

This is great news for neutral fans. Charles Leclerc’s retirement from the race lead in Barcelona means Verstappen now leads the championship by six points, with Ferrari now facing the same awkward questions about reliability that Red Bull has put up with all year. The revival of the Silver Arrows is exactly the extra spice we need.

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