Paddock theory that Mercedes ‘missed a trick’ with power unit development freeze

Mark Scott
Lewis Hamilton in action with the Mercedes W14. March 2023

Mercedes Lewis Hamilton in action with the Mercedes W14. February 2023.

Sky Sports F1 reporter Ted Kravitz has shared a paddock theory which suggests Mercedes have not maximised the albeit limited opportunities under F1’s engine freeze.

Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault and Honda (or Red Bull Powertrains, if you fancy) are all blocked from making performance gains through the development of their respective engines until 2026.

This is so the aforementioned manufacturers can already start to focus on pouring time and resources into the new power-unit era of F1 coming our way after the end of the 2025 season.

What engine manufacturers are allowed to do, though, is make reliability fixes which, in turn, could lead to better performance over a longer duration.

Renault, Honda and Ferrari are all said to have done that, first creating a powerful engine and then addressing the issue of reliability.

The fear with Mercedes, meanwhile, is that they built a reliable engine first and have now left themselves with no room for performance gains.

Asked by a fan whether Mercedes were behind Ferrari and Honda in the power unit race, Kravitz revealed the theory in full in a recent Q&A session with Sky Sports.

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“This is an interesting one,” Kravitz said.

“Given the sport’s engine freeze until 2026, there is a theory around the paddock that, because Mercedes were reliable with their power unit last year, they missed a trick in terms of designing it to be powerful but not reliable and then being able to fix the reliability, which was allowed up until September last year.

“Lots of other manufacturers did that. Renault did that, Ferrari did that, Honda did that. It meant that they couldn’t get to the end of the season without using an extra power unit and getting a penalty but they didn’t mind that because they could bring the changes to the engine on reliability but have a secondary benefit of adding a bit more power as well.

“Everyone can see, that memo, when an engine manufacturer says we want to bring this fixed MGU-H or whatever it is for reliability, that gets circulated to all the other manufacturers.

“So, everybody knows what everybody else is doing but it doesn’t mean the engine manufacturers can’t add a little bit more power in the name of reliability as well.

“You ask Mercedes, they say we built the engine to do the whole season and in the case of the customers, both Aston-Martins and both Williams didn’t take an engine penalty last year with three power unit elements.

“Well, you might say hang on, you have gone the other way, you should have gone a bit more performance.

“Take the hit on the engine penalty with reliability but be able to improve that under the engine freeze. But that is not what Mercedes have done and only time will tell if Mercedes live to regret that.”

Most of the noises from the Mercedes camp during pre-season testing suggest the Silver Arrows are not likely to be in strong contention for the opening race win this weekend in Bahrain, but there is still a feeling within the team that the forecast made for Mercedes this year has been an overly gloomy one.