Mercedes Need to Straighten Out Their Reliability Concerns, and Fast

Nico Rosberg was forced to retire during the Singapore Grand Prix.

Nico Rosberg only managed to complete 14 laps of the Singapore Grand Prix before he was forced to retire for the second time this season.  Lewis Hamilton had to retire in three races of his own this year, at Melbourne, Montreal, and Spa.  

Reliability has been a big concern for teams this year, only Force India has managed not to have a technical failure on the car this season. Lotus leads the board with 10 reliability caused DNF’s this year in the 14 races that have been run.  After that, we have Toro Rosso and Caterham both on the list with nine, but that is expected.  Neither of these teams are considered “front-runners” to win races this year.  Mercedes on the other hand is, and although the team has won all but three races this year, they too are having a large number of technical failures that just shouldn’t be happening to a team of their caliber.  

At the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend, Nico Rosberg had to start from pit-lane after electrical failures on the car plagued him from starting on the formation lap.  And things went from bad to worse after that with Rosberg running less then a quarter of the race before he was forced to retire.  With the 21st place finish, Rosberg’s championship point total remained stagnant at 238 while his teammate Lewis Hamilton won the race and with that, surpassed him for first place in the championship with just three points between them. Rosberg told of the car troubles in a press conference after the race:

“The problems with my steering wheel began in the garage even before the race and it was a difficult moment when I couldn’t pull away from the grid – the car didn’t get out of neutral. When I left the pit-lane, I was only able to change gear – there was no radio, no DRS and reduced Hybrid power.” You can read the full statement here or watch it below: 

After the race, Toto Wolff, head of Motorsport at Mercedes, commented on the situation, “It would not be satisfying at all to have the championship decided because one car let the driver down.  We need to refocus, get our heads down and keep concentrating on preventing these reliability problems reoccurring.”  

Clearly the team wouldn’t want the championship to be decided this way, but if they want to act on their statement they need to start now. So far this year Mercedes has had five technical failures: one electrical, one gearbox, one engine, one brakes failure, and one handling problem.  Three of the five happened to Lewis Hamilton, who wasn’t very relived when he heard that his teammate had retired on Sunday because of a reliability issue.  After the race he stated, “For me, it’s happened quite a bit, so it’s definitely a worry… Conscious thing you’re thinking about when driving, trying to look after the car, saying ‘come on baby, let’s make it to the end’”.

The championship looks as if it will be decided between the two Mercedes drivers come time for Abu Dhabi; only six drivers are mathematically eligible for the championship now with only 150 points left for the taking.  The Mercedes team will be pouring over data this week to figure out what went wrong with Nico Rosberg’s car in Singapore, fighting to prevent a future breakdown with so few races left.

Nico Rosberg gets serviced in the pits before he is forced to retire from the Singapore Grand Prix.

If all in the reliability department goes well, Nico Rosberg has the (slight) historical upper hand.  In 2013, in the last five races of the season, he had an average finish of 5.4 compared to Hamilton’s 9.6.  But there’s a catch, Lewis Hamilton had a DNF in Japan last year with a puncture that sent him out of the race after seven laps.  Reliability issue?  Maybe not, but Hamilton (and Mercedes) hasn’t had luck on his side in the final races of any recent F1 season.  In 2012, Rosberg retired from three of the last six races of the season with crashes.  

Whatever the end of the season brings for the silver arrows, be it reliability issues or crashes, it’ll sure be an interesting end to a season dominated by Mercedes AMG Petronas.   

“These things take time to get a grip on – but we will not stop until we stop suffering these DNF’s. If we could do anything more to prevent further retirements we would be doing it – I would break my arm again to make it happen!” – Toto Wolff

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