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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