Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton has been handed a grid penalty for an engine change ahead of the 2021 Turkish Grand Prix. The 36-year-old British driver have to drop 10 places on the grid for switching to his fourth ICE (Internal Combustion Engine), one more than the limit of three allowed by sporting regulations.
In such situations, teams often change several other engine elements of the car as well, incurring more penalties and starting at the back of the grid. Mercedes, however, have tried to limit the number of element changes in Hamilton’s case. The only element that has been changed so far is the Internal Combustion Engine in an attempt not to drop further behind on the grid.
Mercedes explain their reasons for an engine change on Hamilton's car
Speaking to Sky Sports, Mercedes' trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin explained the need to change the engine. He said:
“There is the balance and risk of a reliability issue, and obviously, the thing that you definitely don't want to do is fail during the race and then have to take a penalty anyway. Then there is also a performance element because the power units do lose a bit of horsepower over their life.”
Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen replaced several elements of the power unit ahead of the Russian Grand Prix and managed to finish second after starting 20th. But Mercedes are not keen on going down that route. Shovlin added:
“The 10-place penalty is the bit that most contributes to that reliability element and the performance is the ICE itself, so it is better to take 10 places than to start from the back.”
While Mercedes have the choice to change more elements on Hamilton’s car, the risk of affecting its performance through the weekend leading up to the race dissuaded them from doing so. Shovlin explained:
“There is a lot of fairly intrusive work when you start changing some of those elements during the race weekend, so we are pretty happy with the decision we have made so far and that is likely on what we'll stick with.”
Mercedes' other driver Valtteri Bottas had opted to change his car's engine and power unit components at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi. However, he was unsuccessful in surging up the grid and recovering positions in the race. Analyzing his performance, Mercedes seem to have opted for a more conservative approach with Hamilton’s engine change. With the title at stake, it's likely an attempt to minimize the number of calculated risks in the race.
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It is widely speculated in the paddock that the team feared engine failures during the race had they not made the critical change on Hamilton’s car. However, many might argue that a singular ICE change might be too risky in comparison to a change in other power unit elements. The Briton is not the only driver to take penalties this weekend. He will be joined by Ferrari driver Carlos Sainz, who copped a 20-place grid drop to change several elements in his car.