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Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin says the team’s decision to fit another new engine to Lewis Hamilton’s car, and accept the grid penalty that came with it, was vindicated by their Sao Paulo Grand Prix victory.

The team opted to install a fifth internal combustion engine (ICE) in Hamilton’s car ahead of qualifying on Friday. That meant he took a five-place grid penalty for the grand prix, after Saturday’s sprint qualifying race.

While team principal Toto Wolff explained the decision was made due to concerns over loss of performance with extended use, Shovlin confirmed that reliability was not a factor in Mercedes’s action.

“There wasn’t a technical reason to change, as in we didn’t think that we were at risk of failing and we don’t think that we’re at risk of failing,” Shovlin explained. “Although, you know, these power units are running awfully hard and you can never, never take reliability for granted.

“But there is an attraction to taking a penalty at a sprint race, because if you can win on the Saturday, that’s more points that you can score and you can lessen a deficit. This is also a track that we hoped would be one that we could overtake at and that we could recover positions. And we proved that in the last two days.”

Shovlin also pointed to the benefit of having an additional ICE unit to choose from over the critical final three rounds of the season, which concludes at Yas Marina next month.

“You want to get these things in the pool because by the time you get to Abu Dhabi you’re not going to get the advantage of it for more than a single race,” said Shovlin.

“So there’s a number of reasons – and it’s never black and white because you don’t know how the weekend is going to going to pan out. But on reflection, I think we picked a good circuit to do it.”

Hamilton suffered a further setback when he was disqualified from the results of qualifying due to a technical infringement on his rear wing. Mercedes quickly chose not to appeal against the decision on the basis of the strong performance they had seen in practice and qualifying.

From last on the grid in sprint qualifying, Hamilton rose to fifth by the end of the 24-lap race, putting him 10th on the grid for the grand prix after his engine penalty. Within five laps of the grand prix starting he was up to third place, which put him in position to challenge the Red Bull drivers for victory.

Shovlin said Mercedes suffered less from tyre degradation in the race compared to their Red Bull rivals, which proved crucial to Hamilton’s ability to catch and pass Max Verstappen to win the race.

“Importantly, we saw that we could sit behind a car,” said Shovlin. “We could do a good turn 12. We had good traction. And those are the ingredients that you need to be able to overtake here.

“But the other factor was that Max, at least, had much higher degradation and ran out of tyres early. And one of the key factors was that Lewis could follow. He could push Max. Max wasn’t able to save his tyres, and really, that was the deciding factor – the tyre degradation and Max dropping.”

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