Mercedes says its gearbox problem at the Formula 1 season opener will reappear with the car’s current specification but hopes to minimise the impact at the second Austrian race.
F1 is sticking with the Red Bull Ring to follow up the Austrian Grand Prix with the Styrian Grand Prix as the same circuit is used twice for the first time in championship history because of the calendar revisions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
As the teams face the challenges of the Spielberg circuit for the second week in a row, Mercedes could be hit by the gearbox concerns than team boss Toto Wolff said could have been an “instant kill” in Sunday’s grand prix.
Mercedes had a critical sensor problem on both cars during the race which it believes is due to oscillations caused by the nature of the aggressive track layout and the impact that has with the specific design of its car.
This causes a build-up of electrical noise on various systems, which appeared to threaten the gearbox’s ability to continue functioning during the race.
The issue started on Valtteri Bottas’s car on Friday and hit Bottas, the poleman and eventual race winner, first in the grand prix as well.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin said there were then “recurrent issues over the course of Saturday” which meant it was expecting the problem to emerge in the grand prix because “it seems to be a feature of the model”.
“So at the moment, if we build the car and run it, this problem will appear at some point,” said Shovlin.
“It’s a question of how soon.”
Shovlin explained that the weakness, which Mercedes has “ideas” on how to try to reduce the issue for this weekend’s race, is “not manifesting itself as one thing”.
“With Valtteri, we saw this around halfway through the race,” he said.
“It got progressively worse. With Lewis, it appeared later.
“But it’s an electrical noise that’s then affecting a lot of different things.”
The Austrian GP was a dramatic race in which just 11 cars made the finish, including the two dominant Mercedes – although a one-two became a one-four because of Lewis Hamilton’s penalty.
Lance Stroll’s Mercedes-powered Racing Point retired after the team reported a sensor issue of its own, and another Mercedes customer – Williams and George Russell – was struck by a fuel pump problem.
Both Honda-engined Red Bulls retired with suspected electrical issues, while Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was hit with a cooling problem and there were mechanical issues for both Haases (brakes), Daniil Kvyat (puncture) and Kimi Raikkonen (wheel).
Shovlin said that upgraded power units could have suffered from the extended break caused by COVID-19 and lack of running since pre-season testing because they are “very easy things where you make a change and there are knock-on effects”.
But he said it was most likely the manifestation of a very aggressive circuit, which means more problems can be expected this weekend for the second part of the track’s double-header.
“Austria’s just a really horrible circuit for the cars,” he said.
“It’s the kerbs themselves that are very violent and you spend a lot of the lap running on them.
“For us, that was that issue. It probably doesn’t help that it’s nearly 30 degrees here, the air’s a bit thin, there’s not as much cooling as you normally get and all the temperatures inside the car are high.
“Every year this is a race of attrition.
“We think we can make some strides to improve some of our problems but others aren’t going to get better on the same track.
“So you’ve got another dose of it coming up and it’s a race against time trying to make headway into those complications.”