Mercedes’ technical director James Allison has admitted the team should have put Lewis Hamilton and George Russell on the same run programme during qualifying at the F1 Chinese Grand Prix.

Hamilton suffered a terrible qualifying in Shanghai and dropped out in Q1, forcing him into a recovery from 18th to ninth, three places behind Mercedes teammate Russell, who had started eighth.

The seven-time world champion struggled with balance problems after making an aggressive set-up change in his W15 following the sprint. On his final lap of qualifying, Hamilton made an uncharacteristic error at the hairpin, costing him a spot in Q2.

Allison said that in hindsight, Mercedes should have done more to encourage Hamilton to follow the same run plan as Russell in the first part phase of qualifying.

“If you make the wrong choices between the sprint part of the weekend and the main event you can end up making the car slower and suffer accordingly and you don’t get any, although you get this opportunity to adjust the car, your first taste of the adjustments you’ve made are in qualifying, in Q1,” Allison said in Mercedes’ post-race debrief video. 

“So if you’ve chosen poorly then you will suffer and the first time you’ll know you’re suffering is when it really counts. I would say, well I don’t need to guess about this because Lewis was absolutely explicit about it afterwards.

“He said he really wished he had taken the same approach that George had taken which was in his first run in Q1, George fuelled to do two timed laps so that he could have a feel of the car in the first flying lap, do a cool down lap and then have another bite at the cherry which would just give him more of a feel for the car.

“Whereas Lewis went later in the session, one timed lap and Lewis was very clear afterwards that he needed another lap. He’d found that the changes he’d made had made the car more understeery, they’d made it easier for the car to lock up under the braking and he was just pinching those front brakes in a way that was causing him difficulties.

“I think we all saw what happened on his second run, which was only his second timed lap therefore, he just running down the main straight into that bottom hairpin, he just got a little bit out of shape on the braking, went deep and that’s 0.7 of a second just there. That’s quite a big gap without which he would have easily got through to Q3 and whatever.

“So he would hold his hand up and say “my mistake, my error”. I think we would be a little more rounded and say we should have actually encouraged more strongly that he was pursuing a programme a bit more like George’s, so that’s our mistake and we should frankly be making a car that is just not so tricky as the one we’ve got at the moment which is causing the drivers to make very uncharacteristic errors.

“We have two of the best drivers in the world and locking up at the end of a straight into a hairpin is not in Lewis’s recipe book and it’s a consequence of the car being too tricky.”

Mercedes are bringing an upgrade package to the next race in Miami and Allison revealed the team are also working on “components” which should improve the W15’s tricky handling characteristics.

“The challenge that we face in the coming races is to try and move both the set up of the car and also the pieces that we bring to the car so that that’s improved,” he added.

“We’ve got upgrade packages coming to the car but also components that we hope will rectify the underlying balance that is causing us difficulty.”