Lewis Hamilton gets the so-called ‘rocket engine’ from Mercedes under the hood again in Brazil. Some wonder why Honda isn’t doing the same for Max Verstappen, but the answer is simple: it would have little or no effect.
Mercedes has dominated in engine power since the dawn of the hybrid era. For seasons the Silver Arrows were unapproachable on the straight. The horsepower of the German formation has therefore made an important contribution to the seven consecutive world championships in recent years. This season, however, the differences with Honda’s power source are minimal, at least, that was the case until the Grand Prix of Great Britain.
Top speed Mercedes
During Hamilton’s home weekend, Mercedes has found something in the engine, which results in a higher top speed on the straight. In contrast to other years, however, the team from Brackley has had to give up in terms of reliability. Valtteri Bottas now has six combustion engines to his name, the seven-time world champion is five. This while the maximum allowed number is three.
Hamilton in Brazil
That means that the Mercedes duo has had to take a grid penalty more than once this season, but especially in the case of Hamilton, this gap was often quickly brushed away. In Brazil, for example, the 36-year-old driver started tenth, but crossed the line first. He also quickly disappeared on the horizon in Qatar, although he started from pole there and there was an older engine under the hood.
Mercedes has a power source that dominates in terms of top speed, but at the same time degrades very quickly. That means that the Mercedes engines give up in terms of top speed as more kilometers are put on the counter, but a fresh copy goes like a rocket. And because of the many engine changes this season, Hamilton still has such a fresh copy on the shelf. This will be used again in Saudi Arabia, on a circuit where top speed will play a major role.
The engine that Hamilton drove in Brazil has about 400 kilometers on the clock and can therefore be screwed open a little further. The party mode has since been banned, but if a team has an engine that can run on more aggressive settings for an entire Grand Prix, that’s just within the rules. After the race in Jeddah, this example will generate a lot less power, but Mercedes doesn’t need that either. In Abu Dhabi, engine power is less important anyway, and Hamilton also has a number of ‘older’ copies in his pool.
New Verstappen engine
Some wonder why Honda is not doing the same with Max Verstappen. Pump a new motor into the Dutchman’s RB16B, crank it all the way up and try to fight Hamilton in Saudi Arabia. Red Bull Racing will not go for this anytime soon just because of the associated grid penalty. Starting further back means a higher chance of having lumps at the start, and a DNF at this stage of the championship is crucial.
However, the main reason will be that a new one won’t make much of a difference. Where Mercedes has a power source that goes like a rocket in the beginning and then decreases steadily, Honda has developed an engine for this season that lasts longer. The relegation in the Japanese is a lot lower, but that also means that a new copy does not suddenly give a huge boost on the straight. Mercedes and Honda have simply gone for a different power source philosophy.