It was already a disaster for Mercedes in the 2018 Formula 1 Austrian Grand Prix with the double retirement but they could still face further troubles if they are forced to change parts resulting in penalties for the British Grand Prix this weekend.
At first, it was Valtteri Bottas who came to a standstill on Lap 13 for a hydraulics failure while Lewis Hamilton stopped on Lap 62 with a fuel pump issue – both unrelated and both not a result of the performance upgrades brought by the team in Paul Ricard.
Since the two issues are not the car parts which usually results in a penalty, but then if it damages any other part which is related to the items which carries a penalty, Mercedes could face a further blow in Silverstone or beyond.
“We hope not,” started Mercedes’ Technical Director James Allison. “We hope not, because we think both of the failures that we had were confined to the items that failed and are both things that can be replaced without having to break into the sealed areas of the car that attract sporting penalties.
“However, I say we hope not because every time the car stops in an uncontrolled way, where a failure happens and the system is then shut down in a manner that is unusual and where the car can suffer all manner of unknown gremlins, you can’t be completely sure until we have done all the necessary checks, to be certain the bits of the car that are sealed and do attract sporting penalties weren’t in any way effected by these uncontrolled shutdowns.
“We have got a bit of work on our plates at the moment to try and make sure we aren’t taking any undue risks with parts that were not to do with the failure but might’ve had some consequential damage as the car shut down. But, we don’t think so, we think we will be in good shape for Silverstone.”
For the first time since the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, Mercedes faced a double retirement – that was due to an incident while the Austrian GP was down to car failures which puts a huge question mark on Mercedes’ ‘bullet-proof’ reliability so far in the hybrid era.
Apart from the technical troubles, Hamilton faced with tyre blisters which were not caught during the practice sessions which took place in colder conditions. The track was warmest on Sunday which may have resulted in the blisters.
“It was quite a warm day and it is also a track that has some very demanding corners,” started Allison. “Very, very fast series of flowing corners around the last part of the lap, that puts a very high thermal burden on those tyres.
“Why did some cars suffer the blistering and others didn’t? It really depends on how hard you want to lean on your car. If you look at the qualifying pace around about for our car 1m3s, and then look at the racing pace, somewhere around about 1m9s at the start of the race.
“The difference between those two figures is way, way more than the additional fuel that gets added between qualifying and racing. And the difference between those figures is largely explained by the drivers looking after their tyres.
“Making sure they are not asking too much of them. Because, on any given lap the car could go way faster than they are driving in the race, way faster. But they will then pay a penalty for that because the tyre will then get too hot, once it gets too hot a blister will occur and then that tyre is damaged in a way that will hurt the rest of your race.
“So, the drivers have to drive below the limit of what the car can give and what the tyres can give on any given lap, in order to make them last a stint. In our particular car, having lost out as a result of bad decisions we made around the Virtual Safety Car, we were trying to recover our race from that point of view.
“A first stint where we saw absolutely no difficulties with the tyre because we were able to run it in a controlled and relaxed way quicker than all the others then became a real catch-up job, where we are trying to lean on the car to get places back.
“Leaning on the car in that fashion pushes the tyres over that cliff edge where the blistering happens. So, it is really just a question of how much you ask of the tyres that determines whether or not the blistering happens, on a track like this where the weather is hot and there is this series of very demanding curves, that put a lot of thermal energy into the tyres,” he explained.
While Hamilton and Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo among others suffered through blisters, the likes of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen & Sebastian Vettel managed it through well to see the chequered flag in one, two and three.
Red Bull’s Christian Horner revealed that Verstappen was backing off in the two right corners in the final sector to ease on his tyres while making the time up on the rest of the track wherever possible to evade the blisters.
However, his tyres also started to give way towards the end of the race when actually Raikkonen was able to set the fastest lap of the race. Both the Ferrari drivers thought they could have gone harder, but felt it was the right call made considering the situation.