Newer Merc engines for customers is just too risky

Some of the conversation about the power units in Formula 1 has been centered around developing them in 2016 and how many tokens manufacturers will have etc. It seems they will allow for in-season development but another issue is the customer supply.

It’s certainly not desirable to cast off your R&D expenses to your customers who are now paying a large portion of your development costs and you are gaining most of the F1 prize money. It also doesn’t seem completely right to offer your customer, who’s paying big money for your engines, an older version of the engine or software that you are running.

Such is the case for Mercedes who started using a 2016 inspired engine in Singapore and while they had issues with it for Nico Rosberg, Lewis Hamilton has been positively dominant with it. So why are their customer teams still waiting for the new engine?

“You’ve seen what happened to us in Singapore and Monza and all the other races,” Mercedes boss Toto Wolff told

“The decision we took is to do an R&D exercise in order to learn more for next year, and you can’t do this kind of exercise with a customer team, because the risk of DNF’ing is there.

“If you go into a development direction you can’t make eight engines, because it could be the case that it’s the wrong direction we went.

“It’s as simple as it is. I can assure that there isn’t any miracle in that engine, [it isn’t] a wonder engine.

“We are well ahead of Williams, but we were well ahead of Williams before.”

The entire supply chain is implicated here and caution over mass producing eight “wrong” engines but then if it is simple and not a wonder engine, I’m left wondering what the concern is. You see, this is starting to smell of 3-day-old fish as it seems a bit of the fox watching the hens to me.

In my thinking, you shouldn’t agree to supply customers with engines unless you are doing so with the same version and spec as the works teams are running. This is also where a third engine developer like Cosworth would have been advantageous but the FIA didn’t afford this independent developer some legroom to work against the big-money makers such as Mercedes.

Yes, Toto, we’ve seen what happened in Singapore but surely the tires played into that drama and Lewis has kicked everyone’s arse with his new engine. Fact is, F1 needs to seriously consider its engine options here. Even with this week’s announcement that they will allow in-season development, I’m not sure that will be quite enough without an engine supply cost-cap program.

If teams still want hybrids, I’m starting to wonder if an alternative engine format that is just as competitive but much more affordable might not be a better solution for smaller teams. I liked the original intent of Cosworth’s affordable engine program that Max Mosley set up but he missed a few key areas there.

Suffice it to say, there are customers who would most likely be more than willing to take that risk right now. And yes, we know you’re better than Williams right now.

Hat Tip: Motorsport

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peter riva

“… Cosworth would have been advantageous but the FIA didn’t afford this independent developer some legroom to work” – exactly… look, I’m an old guy… I remember the thrill of each race, each circuit that favored one manufacturer over another, championship leads switching from race to race, Ferrari vs. Chapman’s Lotus, vs. Brabham, vs. BRM and so on… all had different sized engines. Lotus was smaller, lighter chassis, nimbler. Ferrari had the high revving power but so-so handling, Brabham had the balance but an under-sized engine (year 1). Heck, way way back BRM had a 16 cylinder engine capable of… Read more »

charlie white

Hasn’t this very point been the argument against having works or factory teams in most motorsports? I’m certain Williams team would gladly accept the risks if they could use the 2016 spec engine right now.


Toto’s also being rather disingenuous here mentioning Monza. Yes Nico’s engine blew up, but it was the old 2015 spec that was past its use-by date, which he had to use because of a cooling system leak in the new one they’d installed – surely a minor problem. Lewis had no difficulties with the new engine, not only dominating the race in cruise-control mode, but putting the hammer down over the last few laps when they thought they might be penalized over the tyre pressure. And Lewis hasn’t had a single reliability issue since. Toto also mentioned Singapore, but their… Read more »

Patrick Chapman

@Longshot. Lewis did have one DNF with the new engine when a clamp broke on the inlet pipe. But as you say, that is a reflection on the part, not necessarily on the reliability of the engine. This whole scenario reflects the attitude and philosophy of Mercedes rather than their concern for their customers, In my opinion, no works team should be allowed to use a newer spec engine than their customers, They can test it on the dyno until they are happy with the reliability and then they can wait until they have sufficient engines for everybody before using… Read more »

Andreas Möller

The problem is that even if the infrastructure was there to roll out updated engines for all customers at the same time, they won’t want to change their engines at the same time. It’s only at the start of the season all drivers are on the same engine plan – as soon as someone has a premature failure, they’re out of sync for the rest of the season. And it wouldn’t be fair if the engine manufacturer were allowed to force an engine change on to a customer (who would then incur a penalty). The limitations on the number of… Read more »

Patrick Chapman

Good point Andreas but there is no rule preventing the customer from removing an existing PU in favour of a new spec and re-fitting the used unit later on. The penalties only start when you have used up your total allocation of PU’s.

Andreas Möller

Ah, I must be thinking of gearboxes – IIRC, those are meant to last a certain number of races, and taking a new one too early = penalty. Or is this also an old regulation from the previous engine regs? Maybe I need to read up on the regs…

Patrick Chapman

Yes, gearboxes have to last five races before they can be changed without a penalty and the new agreement with the teams allows older spec engines to be used by their customers and themselves but that is the same for 2015 hence Rosberg fitted the new spec engine for Monza, had an issue with it and then reverted to an old spec engine for the race.

Chuck Voelter

As an aside – one thing you don’t seem to hear on TV is those gearboxes – MAN are they loud sometimes, BANG! BANG! you can hear them slamming through the gears at the race – it’s amazing they last as long as they do.


Yes I don’t think customers should be forced to move to the new spec, but as soon as the works team introduces an update to their own team it must be immediately _available_ to all their customer teams, who can choose when or if to start using the new engines. At least thats how it should be imho.

Andreas Möller

So… Mercedes didn’t want to risk a customer DNF’ing with a development power unit, so they instead opted to let their own drivers – while locked in a close battle for the championship – take that risk. I honestly didn’t think there was room for such altruism in F1, but I guess I was wrong. My bad.

Patrick Chapman

@ Andreas. Yes, Mercedes are so kind and considerate it makes me want to cry.


How many of Ferrari customers have the same engine Todd ?

Patrick Chapman

@Rob. Ferrari currently supply themselves, Sauber and Manor. Sauber are one step behind the works team and Manor are one year plus two steps behind, I believe that Sauber will get the new spec shortly but Ferrari are talking about a new spec for Austin which will leave Sauber at least one step behind them again.

Andrew Pappas

This is nothing new. Back in the old turbo era, BMW had two levels of engine.

I think that they should be forced to offer both types of engine, but a higher cost greater info share with those helping them on the bleeding edge. This would bring more R&D to MB, keeping pace in front of Ferrari, while offering say a Williams a bit of an edge.

If MB is just keeping their customers at arms length, is both short sighted and petty

michael in seattle

Reminds me of my father-in-law who used to tell his kids that he would sacrifice himself and eat their artichoke hearts because they might be poisonous to children. He was “only thinking of you”. :)