How ironic it is that Honda is questioning the reliability of Mercedes engines, as Lewis Hamilton took his fifth engine and a penalty that comes with it at this weekend’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
The early PU was likened to “a Formula 2 engine” by Fernando Alonso, during Honda’s home Japanese Grand Prix in 2015, during the ill-fated years with McLaren which so frustrated the double F1 world champion.
But since then the Japanese auto giant, despite announcing their departure from the sport, have ramped up their package to the point that Red Bull have won ten times this season to Mercedes six victories.
While Hamilton is on engine number five, teammate Valtteri Bottas is already on his sixth power unit suggesting Mercedes may have plateaued with their performance vis-a-vis reliability.
Honda, of course, made headlines only a few years ago for F1 power unit failures and grid penalties, expressed amazement on Friday at how many engines usually rock-solid Mercedes were going through this season.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who leads Hamilton by 19 points with four races to go, is meanwhile on his fourth Honda engine as is Mexican teammate Sergio Perez and they do not expect to need any more.
Commenting on the Mercedes situation, Honda F1 boss Toyoharu Tanabe told reporters: “I am very surprised with changing the ICE so frequently. Actually, I can’t believe what’s going on. From the PU manufacturer point of view, it’s kind of disappointing to get a PU penalty for the driver.”
Mercedes have won the last seven F1 Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, with Hamilton chasing a record eighth title this season.
As mentioned, Honda had a torrid time with McLaren on their return to the sport as an engine supplier in 2015 after a highly successful earlier partnership with the Woking team in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
In 2017, McLaren driver Stoffel Vandoorne had a meaningless 65-place grid penalty for his home Belgian Grand Prix after Honda replaced his car’s power unit. Other penalties in excess of 30 places were not unusual at the team.
At that year’s Brazilian Grand Prix Alonso famously watched qualifying from a trackside deckchair after his McLaren broke down.
The Japanese manufacturer and McLaren split at the end of 2017 when the team finished ninth overall, with Honda teaming up with Red Bull, who are now closing in on a first title since 2013.
McLaren are powered by Mercedes, after three years with Renault, and fighting for third overall. Mercedes are one point ahead of Red Bull in the constructors’ standings.
Honda are leaving the sport at the end of this season, however, with Red Bull set to take over the intellectual property and build their own powertrain. (Reporting by Alan Baldwin)