Toto Wolff has admitted Mercedes are “hanging on for dear life” with the engine supply to their customer teams, let alone themselves.
The issue was never more stark than on the opening day of the United States Grand Prix weekend when three of the four constructors that use Mercedes power were confirmed to be taking engine penalties.
Sebastian Vettel and George Russell, of Aston Martin and Williams respectively, will start from the back of the grid at the Circuit of The Americas having been fitted with their fourth internal combustion engines (ICE) of the season.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, meanwhile, is now on to his sixth ICE – double the permitted number – and will incur a grid penalty for the third time in four races, a drop of five positions from where he qualifies.
That leaves McLaren as the only Mercedes-powered team so far unaffected in Austin.
Having said in a Sky Sports interview Mercedes have had “some reliability issues that keep coming back” since the middle of the year, the World Champions’ team principal Wolff later added in a press conference that he is concerned by the issues that are afflicting the customer teams.
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“I think you see that we are suffering with reliability this year,” said the Austrian.
“We are going on to the sixth engine, I believe it is for Valtteri, and it’s not something we choose to do.
“On the contrary, we are trying to really get on top of the problems and we haven’t understood [them] fully.
“I think we are a step closer now, so it’s not always that we are literally easy with having the engines.
“We are hanging on for dear life in supplying all customers and that is not trivial.”
Wolff admitted the engine issue has hurt Mercedes’ attempts to retain their two World titles, more significantly the Drivers’ race in which Lewis Hamilton trails Max Verstappen by six points having had to take a 10-place grid drop in Turkey last time out.
“I think when you look at Monza, for example, Valtteri had to start from the back and we are losing points on the way,” said Wolff.
“We are trying to push the performance every year, and this year we’ve come to a point where that has cost us points. Over the last seven or eight years, that mindset has won us races and championships.
“So I would have hoped for a few less penalties and use less engines, but this year it has really hit us hard.
“McLaren and Aston Martin are more fortunate and in that respect, we just have to take it on the chin and do the best possible job.”
Zak Brown, the McLaren CEO, was sitting alongside Wolff at the press conference and expressed no problems from his side.
“There’s great competition so when you’re pushing, that will always challenge reliability,” said Brown
“I must say from a McLaren point of view, we are very happy. They have an unbelievable track record, so we are not concerned.”
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