PENALTIES AND GEARBOX PROBLEMS BELIE MERCEDES DOMINANCE
Race day at the Red Bull Ring came with a far from perfect start for Lewis Hamilton and the Mercedes team as he was handed a three-place grid penalty just 41 minutes before the start of the race due to a reversal of an earlier appeal.
With the verdict on the incident in question having already been given by the stewards who decided not to penalise him for speeding through yellow flags, it was up to a Twitter video of the 360° camera on the car and the persistence of Red Bull to produce the evidence that resulted in the late decision of the grid penalty which took Hamilton from second to fifth place on the starting grid.
The race itself showed the superiority of the Silver Arrows as two separate safety cars were the only reason Bottas did not finish far out of sight of Leclerc in second place who was comparatively putting in a stunning drive in a very uninspiring Ferrari.
However, the drama for Hamilton did not end with the grid penalty. After the second safety car he was defending second from Alex Albon when they collided as Albon made a move around the outside at turn 4. A five second time penalty was subsequently handed to Hamilton as the stewards felt he could have given more room to the Red Bull. Mercedes chief Toto Wolff challenged the decision, describing it as ‘too harsh’ citing evidence that Hamilton had his steering at full lock at the moment of the crash and had no way to avoid the incident. It is hard to argue against his perspective with the penalty resulting in Hamilton finishing in a disappointing fourth place.
Despite the low finish for the 6 times World Champion it was clear for all to see that Mercedes was the superior car in the field even though they were dealing with a gearbox problem throughout the race which they have now said there is ‘no quick fix’ for.
The root cause of these issues is a combination of the vibrations the car is submitted to by the kerbs around the Red Bull Ring along with the layout of the W11 internals resulting in a build-up of electrical interference within the car systems causing problems with the gearbox and its sensors.
Mercedes first became aware of the problem on the Friday showing that it is an ongoing issue. Trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin reveals that ‘going into the race, we were expecting it because it seems to be a feature of the model., suggesting Mercedes has no quick fix before this weekend.
With the back to back races, there is an interesting new dynamic this weekend where normally teams would have a whole year to wait before they have an opportunity to apply the learnings from the previous visit to the Austrian track. This new schedule means that if some teams make a better job of learning from last weekend than others it could be a very different result.
We now have the chance to see what solutions teams can come up with in this short space of time and it is looking like Mercedes are going to have to pull out all the stops to find a fix or risk having one or both of their cars not completing the race this weekend.
Thankfully for Mercedes it looks like the solution will only require modifications to the current gearbox and not a complete replacement which would attract a grid penalty.
As our feature title suggests however, even with all of these issues combined on a single weekend, Mercedes were still able to come home in first and fourth place, only missing out on a double podium finish by 0.2 seconds with the time penalty added on, proving Mercedes are still the team to beat.