Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes, Sochi Autodrom, 2021

Hamilton at risk of penalties as Mercedes admit “question marks” over power units

2021 Russian Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton may have to emulate his team mate by taking grid penalties for power unit changes as Mercedes admitted uncertainties over their hardware.

Valtteri Bottas has had replacement power units fitted to his car at each of the last two races, leading to grid penalties. He is now on his fifth engine of the season with seven races remaining.

Mercedes’ decision to change Bottas’ power unit for the second race in a row was widely interpreted as a tactical move to deploy him as a spoiler against Hamilton’s championship rival Max Verstappen. However Bottas offered little resistance to the Red Bull driver in the race.

On Sunday evening Bottas said his engine “had to” be changed because of “some issues”. Asked whether the team incurred the penalty to cover Verstappen he insisted “no, we had to take it”.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff said they are “in a phase of assessment how to continue this season in terms of power units”. Hamilton took his third and final penalty-free engine change at the Belgian Grand Prix.

“We haven’t only made precautionary engine changes because we felt we want to stockpile, but also because we want to understand the engine’s performance, and that has given us some question marks,” he said in response to a question from RaceFans. “So at the moment, we just take it one race weekend at the time and reassess the performance of the power units and then take decisions.”

Wolff revealed the team was looking into how many of the power units it has used so far can return to action at future rounds.

“At the moment we are reassessing the performance of the power units because we have question marks and therefore haven’t decided which engines would go back into the pool,” he said.

The team is wary of the impact an engine failure would have on their championship chances, said Wolff. “Reliability versus performance is always the fine line that you need to to get right.

“As I said before, [not finishing] obviously is a no-go for the championship and nobody, neither us nor our competitors, can afford a zero points race weekend.”

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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17 comments on “Hamilton at risk of penalties as Mercedes admit “question marks” over power units”

  1. Malaysia 2016 coming

  2. Mexico has the best overtaking opportunities and Hamilton probably has competitive engines for Turkey and COTA.

    1. Mexico is one of the worst for overtaking high elevation and low drag due to reduced air pressure dont go well with Mercs.

      1. I think he means Lewis should take the replacement engine there as it regarded as a Red Bull track (less losses) and the long straight he could make up places.

  3. Any list of PU and components every team used thus far? Is Mercedes PU suffered the most reliability issues? I frequently hearing Mercedes and its customer team have to deal with engine issue, but less so from Honda or Ferrari, and Renault teams.

    1. Mercedes had some concerns heading into the final part of last season but not sure about this season (by that I mean I don’t know). I recall Mercedes said they tuned down their PU for Abu Dhabi in response to Racing Point issue not long before (can’t recall whether it was the fire issue or not in Bahrain or something else).

    2. Indeed, lots of problems. The Honda development pushes Mercedes to the limits of the engine.
      For years they were able to use the engine only in safe mode but now it is performing at its max output.
      Still the fastest car but with a question mark on reliability.

  4. Jelle van der Meer (@)
    27th September 2021, 16:50

    When it rains it pours must be a thought that crossed Bottas mind in recent years.
    It is quite amazing how nearly all of the bad luck, mechanical failures, pit stop errors etc of Mercedes in recent years have fallen onto Bottas.

    If he has to take engine penalties, would this be the first engine penalties for Hamilton since the Hybrid era? I know he had a blown engine in 2016 but not sure if that lead to engine penalties.

    1. For what it’s worth, Mercedes pit failure screwed Russell of a win last year too which was technically on Hamilton’s side.

      But yes you’re right, nearly all sounds a about right. Poor Bottas. :/

    2. Hamilton definitely had to replace a lot of components, including starting from the bottom in spa 2016, so I’m guessing at least one of those was engine related.

  5. Coventry Climax
    27th September 2021, 19:37

    Somehow Wolff’s words always remind of a rather famous Thin Lizzy song.
    I’m sure there’s one or other ‘tactical’ reason he says what he says.

    1. Bad Reputation?

      1. Coventry Climax
        28th September 2021, 0:37

        Don’t believe a word.

  6. So with Mercs record of faux drama no engine penalty will be needed and they will be very fast every race.

  7. Coming from Mercedes this absolutely holds zero value

  8. I’ve been convinced since early in the season that the best tactical option for the entire season is to aim for using one more engine than allowed. For everyone except maybe Haas, who has said all along that they are basically just hanging out this season putting all their efforts into next year. By using 4 engines rather than 3, you can run the engines 25% shorter and thus be able to push them harder in every race. That will gain you more, over the full season, than what you loose by starting at the back in one single race.
    It’s time to remove this rule and let them use as many engines as they like, it doesn’t save costs anymore anyway.

  9. The difference being that Hamilton has no issues working his way through the field

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