Lewis Hamilton has escaped a grid penalty and will start from tenth on the grid in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.
The defending World Champion was first placed under the attention of the FIA Stewards during qualifying for failing to rejoin the track in a safe manner after short-cutting Turn 2, and then had his woes compounded when his car suffered a power unit component failure at the end of Q2.
The issue turned out to be an identical MGU-H problem to the one which affected him at the preceding Chinese Grand Prix, which saw Hamilton start from the rear of the grid and charge to a seventh-placed finish in the race.
If the team elected to fit a new replacement engine – which would have been Hamilton’s third of the season – he would have been forced to start from the pit lane, but Mercedes has instead opted to the since-repaired engine run in Shanghai. This engine already has two races worth of mileage, having been used at both the Australian and Bahrain Grands Prix before it failed in China.
Mercedes confirmed its approach was guided by its desire not to break parc fermé conditions, which would have resulted in Hamilton being forced to start from the pit lane at a venue where overtaking has historically been difficult.
This repaired engine has a new turbocharger and MGU-H fitted – the latter being his third of the season already – which were replaced in the wake of the Chinese Grand Prix failure. The team also elected to fit new control electronics and energy store components in a bid to eliminate them as potential problems for the MGU-H.
Mercedes’ situation was further complicated because the team had brought a fuel system upgrade for the Russian race – costing the engine maker two development tokens – but it did not have spare components onsite.
A replacement upgraded fuel system was flown to Sochi on a chartered jet on Saturday evening, arriving in the early hours of Sunday morning to be fitted to the replacement engine.
The drama is the latest in a string of setbacks for Hamilton, who has failed to beat teammate Nico Rosberg for six Grands Prix on the trot and trails the German by 36 points in this year’s Drivers’ Championship standings.
“I don’t know what the word is, I can’t really describe what I feel right now – it’s not a great feeling,” a visibly crestfallen Hamilton said after qualifying.
“You’re almost helpless at some points, we’ve worked so hard, with my mechanics and my engineers, to get the car in a great position this weekend. We had the great pace once again and this happens to us all unexpectedly.
“I feel helpless for my guys because there’s not really much I can do to uplift them and there’s not really much they can do to uplift me because it’s already happened.”
Starting Sunday’s race from tenth place, Hamilton will pin his hopes on avoiding any first-lap drama around him and then deliver a race in the style of his teammate, who fought back from last to second in 2014 after flat-spotting his tyres trying to claim the lead from Hamilton at the start of the race.
“I’m just hoping to have a clean first lap and have a car in one piece to fight with people. I don’t think I’ve had one race this year with a full car after Turn 1 so that’s what I’m hoping for,” he added.
“I’ve not really had to do much overtaking here over the last few years so I don’t know how difficult it is but I’m not a bad overtaker so it should be alright.”
Hamilton also avoided any grid penalty after meeting with the FIA Stewards to explain why he did not follow the procedure outlined by FIA Race Director Charlie Whiting when a driver cuts Turn 2.
Rather than proceed through a clearly marked ‘rejoin’ route, Hamilton returned to the circuit almost immediately after missing his braking point at the approach to the right-hander on an early run in Q1.
After reviewing the available footage and telemetry, the panel – which included ex-F1 driver and five-time Le Mans 24 Hours winner Emanuele Pirro – opted to hand Hamilton a reprimand.
This is the second reprimand of the season for Hamilton – his first came for reversing in the pit lane at the end of qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix – and should he receive a third then he will be hit with a ten-place grid penalty.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team
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