F1: Was Lewis Hamilton’s Miami Grand Prix optimism for Mercedes justified after best result of 2024?

Lewis Hamilton had his best result of the 2024 F1 season with sixth place at the Miami Grand Prix on Sunday; Hamilton finished closely behind Sergio Perez and Carlos Sainz as Mercedes team-mate George Russell struggled; Mercedes will hope to make more progress next weekend in Imola

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Just days after the Miami Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton hit the red carpet of the Met Gala amongst other sporting superstars such as tennis’ Williams sisters and NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr

Lewis Hamilton delivered an encouraging performance in the Miami Grand Prix, but it remains to be seen whether Mercedes have made genuine progress or if the display was another false dawn.

Having endured a painful – and pointless – Sprint after both Hamilton and team-mate George Russell failed to make it through to the final part of Sprint Qualifying, the weekend threatened to plunge the Silver Arrows to even greater depths amid their worst ever start to a season.

However, having started behind Russell in eighth on the grid, Hamilton produced a strong display in Sunday’s full-length contest as he applied heavy pressure to Red Bull’s Sergio Perez for much of the race, eventually finishing sixth.

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While it wasn’t Red Bull’s strongest afternoon, as McLaren’s Lando Norris beat Max Verstappen to claim his maiden F1 victory, Hamilton being able to keep in touch with Perez – and the Ferraris ahead – was a positive sign.

“Honestly, a really good day. I’m really happy,” Hamilton told Sky Sports F1 after the race. “Great job by the team and I’m really happy with the set-up we finally got. We finally got that sorted or at least in a better window.

“To be able to move forwards and have some good battles with a few drivers, there was a close one with Hulkenberg! What’s crazy is that I just felt the most calm in that moment, I don’t know why.

“Then to hold on to one of the Red Bull’s at the end, it felt great to see Ferrari and Red Bull in the distance.”

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Lewis Hamilton said Adrian Newey would be an amazing addition to Ferrari after the chief technical officer confirmed his exit from Red Bull this week

Where did Hamilton’s improvement come from?

Having designed a car for a third consecutive year that is simply not a match for Red Bull’s class-leading model, Mercedes had spent the opening weeks of the season making extreme changes to the setup of the W15 in the hope of unlocking more pace.

After the disappointment of China two weeks earlier, the team arrived in Miami with the intention of taking a less speculative approach to setup to ensure more solid performance, while also introducing an upgrade to the car’s floor.

That looked to have gone wrong in the Sprint, but the allowance of just one 60-minute practice session before the competitive action begins leaves every team at risk of not quite getting the setup right.

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Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell face elimination in SQ2 at the Miami Grand Prix

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff suggested after the race that maintaining their more steady approach was a key factor in Hamilton’s relative Sunday success.

“I wasn’t happy on Friday at all and with the Sprint race, and then we put in some solid work, very structured, for the Grand Prix qualifying,” Wolff said.

“Accepting that this is the base level at the moment and then just carrying it over into the race. Finishing sixth and eighth is not something to be proud of but is a step in the right direction.”

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Sky F1’s Ted Kravitz reflects on all the big talking points from the Miami Grand Prix where Lando Norris claimed his first victory in Formula One

Why did Russell struggle?

While Hamilton was enthused by his display, some of the gloss, at least from a team perspective, was taken off it by the fact that Russell was unable to match his team-mate’s pace.

The younger Brit has largely got the better of the seven-time world champion so far this season but on this occasion was flattered by finishing just two places behind Hamilton in eighth.

While Hamilton was pressuring Perez, Russell struggled to challenge Yuki Tsunoda in an RB.

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George Russell reflects on Adrian Newey’s Red Bull departure while discussing the possibility of both Max Verstappen and Newey moving to Mercedes

“It was a really tough day for us” Russell told Sky Sports F1. “We had no pace whatsoever. We need to check the car because something didn’t feel quite right and we lost a lot of pace compared to what we thought.

“I just had no pace at all. It was a lot worse than expected. Our race pace has been pretty strong this year but compared to Lewis I was nowhere, so we need to check to see what happened and go from there.”

Wolff’s explanation for the discrepancy between his drivers was that Hamilton did his second – and longer – stint on the better-performing medium tyre, which Russell started on before switching to a hard tyre that didn’t work well on the W15.

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Highlights of the Miami Grand Prix where Lando Norris became the 21st driver from the United Kingdom to win a Formula 1 race

Wolff optimistic with upgrades on the horizon

Despite Hamilton’s optimism, the apparent specificity of conditions that was required for him to produce a strong driver evokes memories of several moments under the sport’s current regulations in which Mercedes have appeared strong for a session or segment of a race, but then failed to maintain it.

Wolff’s post-race comments suggested that more fluctuation in performance is inevitable from track to track, at least until Mercedes have a more significant upgrade package ready.

“I think the car is not bouncing any more, which is good,” Wolff said. “It was really bad the last two years here.

“The car is very strong in high-speed. The ride is a bit better although not on the level of the other ones, but the car just doesn’t turn in low speed. You don’t want to have a car that is either good in low-speed or in high-speed, you need the two of them, and that’s why it points us in some of the right direction.

“It’s been a painful learning curve and it’s still not satisfactory, but the situation is more encouraging now.”

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Mercedes’ George Russell says his race pace caught him off guard while Lewis Hamilton was a lot more encouraged with his new setup during the Miami GP

While McLaren brought what appears to be a game-changing upgrade in Miami, and Ferrari are expected to unveil significant new parts next time out at Imola, Wolff seemed to suggest Mercedes’ new features are still a few races away.

I think we know what we’ll do,” the Austrian added. “In terms of what we’re bringing to the car, you can’t really rush it because you’ve got to develop to the point where you say, ‘now it’s good to be released into production.’

“And once these parts come, they need to be sorted, so this is a matter of many weeks.”

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Speaking on the Sky Sports F1 Podcast, Natalie Pinkham reflects on Lando Norris’ growth and development since his early years in the sport

Ultimately, there have been too many false dawns for Mercedes to be confident that Hamilton’s Miami momentum can be built upon, but it will be fascinating to observe at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, live on Sky Sports F1 from May 17-19, whether a more conservative approach to setup will pay dividends.

Rather than being disheartened by seeing Mercedes’ customer McLaren win in Miami, Wolff is taking Norris’ win as evidence that his team can still turn things round before F1’s regulations change again in 2026.

“They have made such a massive step since last summer and they won fair and square, and this is with a Mercedes engine,” Wolff said. “And that is so important for all of us to see that you can make these steps if you bring in the right upgrades and do the right work. So I see only positives.”

Formula 1 heads to Europe as Imola returns to the calendar following last year’s cancelled race. Watch the Emilia Romagna GP on May 17-19. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership – No contract, cancel anytime

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