Last weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix reminded once again that Mercedes still has the edge over the other engine manufacturers. The way Lewis Hamilton stormed through the field after a disastrous qualifying highlighted the deficit between the various engine makers regarding the outright engine power.
Mercedes showed dominant form over the practice sessions in Brazil, especially in the hands of Lewis Hamilton. That trend partly ended in the qualifying session when the Briton crashed his car into the barriers on his very first flying lap, but his team mate could secure the pole position despite Sebastian Vettel's unmerciful attacks.
As Hamilton was going to start from the back of the grid anyway, Mercedes changed the internal combustion engine, the turbocharger and the MGU-H unit in his W08. Therefore, he had to start the 71-lap-long Grand Prix from the pit lane. The freshly crowned driver fought his way up to fourth place, only 0.8 seconds adrift the podium and only 5.4 seconds behind the race winner Sebastian Vettel. He was helped by the early safety car period, by his tyre strategy and also by his fresh set of supersofts compared to the podium finishers, but his speed was ominous through the long full-throttle sections in the first and third sector.
His W08 may have been set up for a lower-downforce/lower-drag configuration to boost the Briton’s chances on his march through the field, but the dominance of the two Mercedes cars were hugely devastating.
The pole-sitter Valtteri Bottas set the best first sector time (17.299) and the best last sector time (16.226) during the qualifying session. The Finn could carry that advantage over into the race. Lewis Hamilton’s superiority in those two sections was even more frightening. The Briton made a series of overtaking manoeuvres during the race, but he admitted only one of those was enjoyable, because all the others were made on the straights long before the braking zones due to his incredible top-speed advantage.
Ahead of Hamilton’s mistake in the first qualifying segment, an older version of the Mercedes EQ + power unit was beating as the heart of the car. It was the 2.0 unit which debuted in the first half of the year and has already completed a few races. Mercedes debuted the power unit version 3.1 in Spa which was due to run in the season finale in Abu Dhabi. According to the GPS measurements, the difference between the two versions is in the region of 15 bhp.
That power gain was mainly used only in the all-important qualifying sessions, the unit was de-tuned in the races. Since this power unit has to complete only two races (the previous Brazilian GP and the forthcoming Abu Dhabi) and only one qualifying session, Mercedes let Hamilton give it the full beans on the throttle. The Briton was 4kph faster than his team mate on the straights due to his fresh engine and 7.4 kph quicker than the Ferraris.
The superiority of the Mercedes power unit could be observed not only on the Interlagos race track, but also during the previous GP on the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit. According to the respected German journalist Michael Schmidt, Mercedes needed only 89 kg of fuel in the Mexican GP while Ferrari needed 101 kg to cover the same distance.
These signs are alarming for the FIA and Liberty Media and something which has to be taken seriously. Renault and Honda are still long way behind the standard Mercedes set, but Ferrari also has a deficit to bridge which it has been trailing for long months. If FIA and the Commericial Right Holders want to pursue engine convergence, the issue has to be addressed over the winter.