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Formula 1

Mercedes penalties needed to avoid ‘catastrophic’ title blow

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
3 min read

Mercedes is still introducing fresh internal combustion engines after recent penalties because a retirement would be “catastrophic” in its championship fights with Red Bull.

Valtteri Bottas used his sixth ICE of the season at the United States Grand Prix, which triggered his third grid penalty in four events.

Oct 25 : United States Grand Prix review

Team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who is fighting Max Verstappen for the drivers’ title, had a grid penalty at the Turkish Grand Prix after qualifying fastest and it has been suggested he may need another before the end of the season.

The exact nature of Mercedes’ reliability issue has not been disclosed but it is a problem within the internal combustion engine that could be related to a bad batch of components.

Mercedes is also understood to have changed materials within part of the V6 this year.

Addressing Bottas’s most recent penalty in Mercedes’ post-US video debrief, strategy director James Vowles said: “We are balancing performance versus reliability to the end of the season.

“One failure to finish a race because of a chassis or power unit fault would be catastrophic for the championship and as a result of that, we are managing that in the best way possible to the end of the year.

“In the case of Valtteri, that meant taking one further ICE to make sure we had absolutely the best compromise.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship United States Grand Prix Race Day Austin, Usa

“As to whether it improved his performance – yes, a small amount, but it is more about the balance across the remainder of the season than one event.

“This change, as painful as it was during the US Grand Prix, will actually pay dividends across the next few races.”

Bottas only finished sixth at Austin which meant Mercedes lost points relative to Red Bull, which finished first and third with Verstappen and Sergio Perez.

It was the first time in five events that Red Bull had outscored Mercedes, trimming the gap in the constructors’ championship to 23 points.


Mercedes Vs Red Bull F1 Constructors' Fight

Bottas admitted after the US GP: “I really hope we’re done for now. Having both of the engines that are good in my engine pool, they seem to be OK – we haven’t detected any issues in either.

“Fingers crossed I can go to the end now without penalties, because with a close championship, when you get put back five places, it really compromises your race weekend.”

“We really hope that now we’ve fixed everything, but time will show” :: Valtteri Bottas

Mercedes does at least have a small margin in the teams’ battle. Where a retirement would be particularly costly is in Hamilton’s bid to overturn Verstappen’s 12-point championship lead.

With Red Bull and Verstappen in particular in good, consistent form, Hamilton cannot afford to lose further ground with only five races to go – let alone post a retirement.

Verstappen Vs Hamilton F1 Drivers' Title Fight (3)


Six of the eight Mercedes-powered drivers have taken grid penalties this season and during the US weekend Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted the manufacturer is “suffering with reliability” and “hanging on for dear life supplying all customers”.

He admitted the need to take penalties “has really hit us hard”.

Oct 18 : Verstappen or Hamilton: Who is F1 title favourite?

Bottas said in Austin: “It’s just been a question of I’ve been more unlucky.

“Before you fit the engines they’ve passed all the tests, the reliability checks. In theory it should be OK.

“But the luck has not been on my side with that. We really hope that now we’ve fixed everything, but time will show.”

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