Hamilton’s power unit paradox

Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes’ decision to fit a new Mercedes power unit to Lewis Hamilton’s car for this weekend’s Formula 1 Turkish Grand Prix could prove a critical factor in the world championship fight.

The Mercedes driver leads the world championship by just two points over Red Bull’s Max Verstappen heading into Round 16 of the season.

With seven races still to be run, and with only two usable engines currently in his bank, it’s expected Hamilton will be forced to take another at some point.

When he does, the Brit will be forced to start the race from the back of the field.

Teams are allowed only three lots of the major components within the power unit, with Hamilton having already exhausted his legal supply.

Verstappen exceeded his permitted elements in Russia last time out, starting from last before charging to a surprise second.

Though it cost him the lead in the world championship, the Dutchman should now be able to see out the season, barring mechanical dramas or a sizeable crash, without further engine penalties.

Hamilton, despite having just two of his allowable three power units in rotation, moved to play out the prospect of a penalty this weekend.

“At the moment I still have [power units] number two and three, so don’t envisage us having to take one at the moment, but that could change,” he said on Thursday in Turkey.

Across the garage, team-mate Valtteri Bottas has used a total of five power units in 2021, having taking grid penalties at the last two events.

Sergio Perez in the second Red Bull has already taken a fourth power unit, while Charles Leclerc received an updated Ferrari unit last time out.

The Scuderia has already confirmed that Sainz will take a penalty this weekend as he receives his own upgraded engine.

Much of the field has managed to reach this part of the season with only their allowed allocation of power units used.

In many instances, that’s even seen some do so without using all of their allotted components – drivers at both Alfa Romeo and Haas having only used two of the three permitted MGU-K elements.

Given Hamilton is almost certain to need an additional power unit at some point this season, there is a degree of logic taking it this weekend.

The Istanbul Park venue has historically been one which has encouraged overtaking.

It also affords time for Hamilton to recover should the move backfire – delaying the introduction of a new power unit serves to only increase the risks associated with the move.

That is unless he can amass a sizeable points advantage over Verstappen, though that seems unlikely given the relative pace of the Red Bull and the fact it has a Honda power unit which can be stressed more than the Mercedes units available to Hamilton.

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