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When is the best time for Mercedes and Hamilton to switch engines?

When is the best time for Mercedes and Hamilton to switch engines?

29-09-2021 08:01 Last update: 09:17

At the end of the Russian Grand Prix Red Bull Racing is in good shape. The gap to Mercedes is small in the championship and Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen have both already used their new engines. Lewis Hamilton has yet to do so, but where can the Briton do so to minimise the damage?

Formula 1 also has its limits

Nowadays, Formula 1 is all about efficiency. It used to be about lots of money and making as many hours as possible, but that is no longer the case. There is a restriction on time in the wind tunnel, testing on circuits and nowadays even on spending money in F1.

What has been in place for some time now is a limit on the number of engines a team can use with impunity. In 2021 the engine will consist of six different parts, namely: The Internal Combustion Engine (ICE), MGU-H, Turbocharger (TC), MGU-K, Energy Store (ES) and Control Electronics (CE). F1 teams are allowed to use the ICE, MGU-H, TC and MGU-K three times, and the ES and CE have a limit of two. If you exceed that limit, you get a grid penalty.

Formula 1 teams are looking for a mix that allows them to get the most out of their engine but doesn't result in different penalties at the end of the season. Honda suffered from this in the past, but nowadays they have managed to build an engine that lasts. Crashes for Verstappen at Silverstone and Sergio Perez in Hungary, however, meant that a new engine had to be used.

Luck for Red Bull

Red Bull has already used the new engine. Perez got his new engine in the Netherlands after a lousy qualifying session, and Verstappen got his new engine in Russia. For Verstappen, the damage was limited as well, because he drove to a second place in the rain. This to the great disappointment of Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton.

The Briton also needs a new engine and Mercedes has reliability problems. Nicholas Latifi had to start from the back of the grid in Russia, but so did Valtteri Bottas. The Finn had to start from the back of the grid in Italy because of a new engine but got another one in Russia. Mercedes is therefore uncertain about the reliability.

That is something you can't use in the fight for the title, and that will also worry Hamilton. He has yet to put a fourth engine in his car, but will it be reliable towards the end of the season? One thing is for sure; with the current engine he probably won't make it to the end of the season, and will normally be defeated by Verstappen's new engine which can be opened up further.

Difficult choice for Mercedes

Mercedes still has to make a choice when they will use the new engine for Lewis. The team will, like Red Bull, want to do this on a track where they don't expect to be very strong, but where overtaking is possible. Also, it can't be done too late in the season. That would mean prolonging the life of the used engine, and the benefits of the new engine would be brief.

Turkey is a track that Red Bull Racing is the favourite to race at, but it seems highly unlikely that Mercedes will get Hamilton a new engine here. This will only happen in case of a very bad qualifying session. Overtaking is not easy here, so the damage could be huge.

After Turkey follows the GP in America. There both teams will be very close to each other. Overtaking is easier in Austin, but again you have to wonder if they might not be giving away too many points with a grid penalty at this track. It is not certain that Red Bull will have the upper hand here.

Grid penalty in Mexico?

The best place for Mercedes seems to be Mexico. Red Bull already dominated this circuit before they became a serious title contender, so the chances of Mercedes coming close to a victory here seem slim. However, straight-line speed remains a major weapon of Mercedes and with the enormously long straight, overtaking is possible in Mexico.

There is one drawback to an engine change in Mexico though, and that is that it is quite late in the season. Hamilton would have to do it for two more races with an engine that is nearing its end. Mercedes won't want to scale the engine back too much for reliability either, as Honda will be too close in 2021, preventing Mercedes from winning races on half power.

The advantage for Mercedes could be that it can open up the engine completely for the last few races. With Brazil, (possibly) Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi all on the calendar, there are races where power can make the difference. With a full power engine Mercedes might be able to make a big difference in the last races. The question is if the gap to Red Bull hasn't become too big in the previous races.

It will be a difficult choice for Mercedes, like it was for Red Bull Racing. Red Bull gambled perfectly with Russia, because the first option in Belgium would have cost Verstappen many points. Mercedes will be disappointed with that and will have to choose the right moment. Which moment that is, we will only be able to determine afterwards.

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