Nico’s notes from F1 Testing – Day 5: Is the Mercedes engine… unreliable?

The penultimate day of testing is in the books, and while we *still* haven’t seen any qualifying runs from pretty much every team, patterns are starting to become apparent – one of which is that, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, Mercedes engines could be unreliable.

I’m not just saying this because Lewis Hamilton stopped on track this afternoon with engine problems. Pre-season is all about exaggerating but I won’t go that far.

No, my hunch is based on the fact Williams have already had three power unit-related issues in testing. Even more interestingly, Nicholas Latifi’s failure yesterday was an “oil systems issue” and Hamilton’s failure today was an “oil pressure anomaly”. Curious.


Formula One Testing, Barcelona
Latifi’s beached FW43 on Wednesday. Image per with permission.

Claire Williams added she hasn’t been told by Mercedes yet what caused Latifi’s failure last Friday. What she does know, and what she looked visibly frustrated by when addressing it, is that Williams have had to swap Mercedes engines twice already in testing because of the recurring failures.

Most likely, this will be chalked up as teething problems with the new engine. Most likely, the Mercedes engine will be devastatingly consistent and reliable again. However, this is becoming too much of a theme now to ignore.

Cards remain close to chests

Although there were just two more days of track time left when the green light at the end of the pitlane started flashing this morning, teams are still not showing anything close to their true pace here at the Circuit de Catalunya. We again had just one driver dipping into the 1:16’s on Thursday – Sebastian Vettel this time.

The German had a busy day as he logged 145 laps, over two full race distances, with a notable moment coming when he chased Lando Norris’ McLaren for a good while. We asked Vettel about this, and about the dirty air compared to last year – he said it’s even worse now.

Vettel also added “you don’t show all your hands” in testing, continuing Ferrari’s theme of both playing down the reports on their car not being fit for a title as well as dubbing themselves underdogs.

Apart from Vettel, just Pierre Gasly and Latifi set their fastest time on the C5 compound – the softest rubber available – meaning we have to again ignore the timesheets. Tomorrow is when all team executives have said they’ll be running qualifying sims; don’t expect flat-out pace, but times should start to drop into the low 1:16’s or high 1:15’s.

The spinning Dutchman

Testing is made for ironing out mistakes and tweaking the car as you go along so it’s perfectly prepared once the Australian Grand Prix comes around (or wherever the season will actually start this year).

However, the sheer number of spins Max Verstappen has made since during testing has been noteworthy, to say the least. He’s spun around five times now, probably the same as all other drivers combined.


Just as noteworthy is how Alex Albon hasn’t made any spins at all. Is Max just pushing too hard, then? Testing the limits of the RB16?

What it looks like, granted this is from the outside and from studying all his spins, is that the car is not balanced well at all. It seems very nervous, the rear seems to kick out too easily and almost too responsive. The Dutchman himself has played it down each time, barely addressing the spins, and they are quite harmless, in a way. They can cost you a Grand Prix win and therefore a championship though, as a certain Mr. Vettel could tell you.

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