Now that Max Verstappen has an extra engine at his disposal, all eyes are on Lewis Hamilton. Will the Mercedes driver take a grid penalty and take an extra power source with him to the last races of 2021, or are they betting on the life of the engine at the German racing stable? Hamilton himself probably won’t want to take much risk, as the British driver has some bad memories in the title fights.
The 2016 Malaysian Grand Prix, a race Hamilton will not soon forget. The Mercedes driver and his teammate Nico Rosberg were fully in the title race with six races to go; prior to the race at the Sepang International Circuit, Rosberg was eight points ahead of Hamilton with 273 World Cup points. The British driver looked set to win the race while Rosberg was making up for damage to limit the damage, but disaster struck on lap number 43: Hamilton’s engine exploded.
What should have been a catch-up for Hamilton, signed the 2016 championship. After the Malaysian GP, there were five races left on the calendar, of which Rosberg won only one, Hamilton won the rest. Still, the engine crash in Malaysia meant Hamilton lost the world championship by just five points.
Will Mercedes and Hamilton gamble?
The situation between Hamilton and Verstappen is somewhat similar this year to the title battle between Hamilton and Rosberg. Without the races with damage or problems, it is a nickel between the two drivers for P1 and P2, although the big difference between the two rivalries is of course that Verstappen and Hamilton are not teammates.
A few things have also changed in Formula 1. At the time, every driver was allowed to wear out no fewer than five power sources per season, without receiving a grid penalty. There was also one race less on the calendar. In 2021, a driver may only use three engines, a fourth engine means a grid penalty.
Hamilton will in any case not want a repeat of 2016, although Mercedes may be convinced that the current engines of the seven-time world champion will last until the end of the season. However, with seven races to go, this looks set to be a tough task. In addition, the engine crash in Malaysia 2016 does not seem to have much to do with the lifespan of the Mercedes engine, but more with bad luck. Especially if we look at the figures from the previous years.
Hamilton will keep Malaysia in mind
Although the regulations, the number of engines and the number of races on the calendar between 2016 and 2021 differ in several areas, Hamilton will always look back to the year in which he (in retrospect) lost the world championship due to one engine crashing. He and Mercedes will no doubt want to avoid a failing power source in the closing races of the current championship.
In addition, it is not only a real downer for Hamilton, but also facial damage for Mercedes. Losing a championship because of an engine that explodes is not very favorable for a car brand from a marketing point of view. Realistically, and looking back at the debacle during the 2016 Malaysian GP, it seems the most logical move to ‘just’ make an engine change at Hamilton.