It seemed like the Miami Grand Prix weekend was going about as wrong as it could go for Mercedes-AMG Petronas.
The team struggled to find the speed they had the last time Formula 1 raced at Baku, with their only strength coming on mock qualifying runs at the end of practice sessions.
And then, during qualifying, Lewis Hamilton failed to make it out of Q2; the seven-time world champion had never started below sixth in the United States prior to starting 13th on Sunday. George Russell was able to at least qualify sixth, but it felt like a consolation for what would be a very long weekend.
On race day, however, the Silver Arrows seemed to find the pace that was missing.
Contrary to all of front-running Red Bull’s simulations, the race-winning strategy for Max Verstappen was to start on the Pirelli hard tires and run long, then switch to the grippier medium compound to the end.
It’s how Verstappen was able to snatch the win away from his polesitting teammate Sergio Perez, but it is also exactly the strategy Mercedes chose for Hamilton.
But Hamilton also didn’t just rely on strategy, as he was able to make crucial passes on Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc. Late in the race, a strong turn of pace helped Hamilton make the passes he needed to get up to sixth place.
Russell, meanwhile, ran the reverse strategy: mediums to hards, leading to a ships-passing-in-the-night moment when Russell came up to Hamilton with fresher tires. Hamilton was asked to let his teammate pass. The seven-time champion replied that Russell could try, but he wouldn’t back off. A few turns later, Hamilton lifted in the esses, and Russell was able to make the pass into turn 17.
Russell was able to drive away from the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz after getting by him in turn 11 on lap 37. Although Russell didn’t have the pace to come close Fernando Alonso in third, he was able to finish a solid fourth place.
“George, great driving,” Team principal Toto Wolff said over Russell’s radio on his cooldown lap. “Good recovery demonstrated. Really, really good.”
“Let’s get this car fast” was Russell’s response….