Mercedes admit ‘question marks’ over Lewis Hamilton engine as Red Bull hope for penalty
Questions were raised when his team-mate Valtteri Bottas took back-to-back grid penalties in Italy and in Russia, as Mercedes took a shock decision to take a fifth power unit ahead of the race in Sochi.
Hamilton has yet to endure any penalties from engine changes, despite questions surrounding his use of the three permitted engines, with Red Bull suggesting he could opt to take a grid penalty in order to make a fourth switch.
With questions surrounding why they opted for a fifth power unit for Bottas, Wolff replied: “I think we haven’t only made the cautionary engine change because we felt we wanted to stockpile, but also because we want to understand the engine’s performance – and that has given us some question marks.”
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When pushed on what the question marks were, Wolff, refusing to respond directly, said: “We’re just taking it one race weekend at a time – and [then we’ll] reassess the performance of the power units and then take decisions.
“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.”
Formula One has a blanket freeze on engine development covering 2022-2024, with that design then frozen until at least 2025, giving teams an extra headache this season.
“That’s why we’re having a few balls in the air,” explained Wolff, “Because you need to have the right balance between making sure that you really sort out all the gremlins that you have in the power unit, not only this year but also for next year’s power unit.
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“So definitely we are in a phase of assessment, [of] how to continue this season in terms of power units.”
Red Bull boss Christian Horner however was confident that Hamilton will have to make a change this season, handing Max Verstappen an advantage with the seven-time world champion to start from the back of the grid if he does so.
“We’re not privy to that kind of information,” said Horner speaking after the race in Russia
“But you’d assume that [with] the amount of Mercedes engines that are being changed in their sister cars and customer teams, you’d expect potentially for there to be a penalty, but obviously we can’t rely on it.”
Mercedes called the change for Bottas at Sochi a ‘tactical opportunity’ to try and hold off Verstappen at the back of the grid.
The plan didn’t work out for Mercedes as Verstappen breezed past Bottas during the race, eventually finishing second, just behind Hamilton.
Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko told Sky: “I hope that our information is correct. According to that, Lewis will have to change again. Going from last place on the grid to the podium doesn’t happen that quickly.
“The upcoming tracks are to our advantage, especially because of the altitude in Brazil or Mexico. We need to win again now, but feel strong enough and attack again.”
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