Valtteri Bottas collateral damage engine swap to avoid ‘catastrophic’ Lewis Hamilton DNF

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Mercedes Motorsport Strategy Director James Vowles says the team are “balancing performance versus reliability” until the end of the season, which played a big factor in why Valtteri Bottas was forced to take another engine ahead of the United States Grand Prix.

Reliability concerns with their engines have been plaguing Mercedes for the past few races, with Bottas now on his sixth fresh component, whilst his team-mate Lewis Hamilton was forced to take a new one in Turkey.

With each engine change, an immediate grid penalty is handed to the driver, and with just five races remaining, Hamilton and Mercedes cannot afford to drop any more points, or worse, suffer a mechanical failure that drops the seven-time world champion out of the race.

When asked what was changed in Bottas’ car ahead of the race. Vowles said: “The answer to that question is that we changed the ICE [Internal combustion engine], what most people think of as the engine, this weekend and just that one component which is why it was a five-place penalty.”

Yet, with Hamilton currently sitting 12 points behind Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the driver standings with just a handful of races remaining, concerns were raised about how reliable Hamilton’s fourth engine would be, and if he may be hit with another grid penalty.

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Adding to the explanation for engine changes, Vowles continued: “The reason is that we are balancing performance versus reliability to the end of the season.

“One failure to finish a race be at 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 and in the case of Valtteri, that meant taking one further ICE to make sure we had absolutely the best compromise.

“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.

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

Formula One heads to Mexico City next weekend, a track with 2,200-metre altitude – by far the highest of the season – which could be an extra concern for Mercedes with the performance of cars often hampered.

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But 1996 world champion Damon Hill recently voiced his concerns for Mercedes, and speaking on the podcast F1 Nation, he said: “Now we’re going to races where altitude and the fragility of the Mercedes power unit, or at least the ICE [internal combustion engine] anyway might mean they have to turn it down a bit more than they’d want to at that fantastic altitude that Mexico City is at.

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“But we don’t know. I think Max will feel like he’s got two fingers on the trophy, it’s not a whole one-handed grip, or even a two-handed grip, but it’s definitely two fingers and he will know that.

“I think there will be a little bit more of releasing of pressure going into the next few races.”

Despite a lead in the standings, Hill says with the championship ebbing and flowing as it has, nothing is certain this season.

“I would never declare this a foregone conclusion at this stage of the season,” the 1996 World Champion said on Sky Sports.

“There are so many mishaps that happen in our sport, and, you know, 25 points on the table for a victory and nothing if you don’t finish.

“That can obviously happen in our sport and it has happened in the past, and it probably will happen to someone between now and the end of the season.

“The question is, will it be Lewis that suffers a DNF or something like that or will it be Max, or will this be a season of Lewis having to claw back that points deficit he has?

“Over the remaining races, he really has to start winning again. It’s eight versus five in victories to Max, so it’s looking like it’s Max’s title at the moment.”

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