#F1 Forensics: A more detailed look at Mercedes and Force India PU and Gearbox usage

Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Tourdog

The tables we published this week were rather large and a lot to take in. Over the next few articles I will be breaking down the data into more easily palatable chunks.

Mercedes-Benz & Force India

Let’s start our analysis with Mercedes-Benz. As Mercedes supplies the most teams with PU and Gearbox elements, this will be the most complex summary, so I am breaking it up into 2 parts.

Mercedes-Benz AMG supplies Power Units to FI, Williams and Lotus. They also supply gearboxes to FI while Williams and Lotus build their own.

Since MERC and FI are both using the same driveline, lets take a look at them together.

On the whole, Mercedes as an engine and gearbox supplier is doing very well. All 4 cars that run Mercedes gearboxes made it 6 races on their first, totalling 16,982km and averaging 4,245km per gearbox. Technically Williams has their average beaten with 4618km however that is because Bottas was forced to essentially run 7 races on a gearbox. More on that later.

Rosberg leads the distance total for all manufacturers, having covered 1,116 laps and amassing 5,316km on his first 2 power units and gearboxes.

Mercedes, Williams, and Lotus all changed out the complete Power Unit before Canada. That included all 6 elements. The only exception to this was Lewis who had changed out his CE very early in the season. He remains on CE #2.

I project Lewis and Nico to make it through at least the 10th race in Hungary on PU #2, and then change to their final PU prior to the US GP. This means Mercedes last power unit will only have to cover a maximum of 4 races.

However, there is a new twist to the situation. If we assume that PU#1 for Hamilton and Rosberg is still good, they could continue to use those Power Units for FP 1 & 2 on Friday, thus significantly reducing the wear on the subsequent Power Unit and it’s components. Sergio’s PU proves they are good for at least 5,000km, all things being equal. Using that number as our benchmark, Lewis having only covered 4251km on his first PU, and averaging 100km/FP session, should get at least 7 free practice sessions out of the old PU. Nico may only get 4 FP sessions from his first PU. This may reduce the amount of distance incurred by PU #2 by as much as 1000 km over 5 race weekends and allow Mercedes to further put off their next PU installation past my projection of race 10 in Hungary.

Is it possible that Mercedes used Power Unit #1 for FP 1 & 2 in Canada? Yes, however….

Personally I think it is unlikely. Installing an untested PU the night before qualifying is inherently risky, especially since we know there really isn’t enough time to do a PU change between FP3 and Qualifying. So my data shows that Hamilton and Rosberg have used PU/ICE #2 for FP 1 & 2 in Canada as a shakedown period.

I will be listening and reading intently on Friday this week to see if anyone mentions what PU Mercedes is using for practice. If we hear nothing my data will reflect the most logical, which is that Mercedes will be using old Power Units on Friday, and switching to their second Power Unit for FP3, Qualifying and race.

But not all 8 cars made it 7 races with the Mercedes Power Units.

Nico Hulkenberg dropped out of the Chinese Grand Prix very early on. The total distance on the PU at failure was 1,887km. It was immediately reported that he had a gearbox issue. He obviously did not have a gearbox failure, and we know this because his gearbox remained in the car through Monaco. If we dig deeper into the FIA docs, we will see that Hulkenberg was one of two Mercedes powered drivers to replace his Control Electronics earlier in the season. In hindsight, we now see that this was an early warning of major failure, because 10 laps into the Chinese GP, something in Hulkenberg’s Power Unit failed, spectacularly.

Before the next race in Bahrain, Hulkenberg had replaced his Turbo, MGU-K, MGU-H and ICE. The only element that had not been replaced at that point was the battery. Mercedes has not told us specifically what failed, but whichever piece did, it seems to have taken out the rest. So Hulkenberg started Bahrain on PU/ICE #2 but Gearbox #1. Since Nico didn’t finish China, Force India had the ability to change his gearbox for a new one, without penalty, before the Bahrain GP but they did not.

Why? File that one away for a moment..

So with the exception on Nico Hulkenberg’s #1 Power Unit, things at Mercedes are going pretty swimmingly. They are on track to use 4 PU’s per car over the course of the season, and barring another unforeseen failure, they will not incur any grid penalties for breaking the 4 PU limit on any car. All discussions of Mercedes reliability problems are now bunk as far as I am concerned. They have by far the most reliable PU and are in a dead heat with Williams for most reliable gearbox. I am probably not telling you anything that the keen observer hasn’t already figured out, but now we have the numbers to back it up.

However, Nico Hulkenberg‘s PU failure set him back more than most realise. We can see from the Mercedes data, that having PU#1 around to use for Free Practice is a real advantage. Hulkenberg will be stuck amassing kilometers on his #2 PU during the practice sessions. It also means he is out of the regular rotation and this may have adverse effects for him when Mercedes choose to do their token upgrades.

The Sergio Situation

Sergio Perez was the only driver in a Mercedes Powered car to NOT get a new PU in Canada. Toto Wolf says it was because they could not build enough PU’s in time, specifically the fuel system, and that after inspection, Perez’s ICE had the least amount of damage.

Well lets look at the numbers shall we? After Monaco, distance numbers on Mercedes ICE’s were as follows:

  • ROS    – 4,566
  • HAM    – 4,251
  • MAS    – 4,267
  • BOT    – 4,232
  • PER    – 4,233
  • GRO   – 3,787
  • MAL    – 3,293
  • HUL    – was already running PU#2 for 3 races

So Perez was essentially tied with Bottas for 4th in distance at 4,233 km, yet he had the least amount of damage according to Toto? Pastor had only covered 3,293 km before all the PU’s were changed. If the decision on which PU not to change was based on damage/wear, why wasn’t Perez’s PU changed and Pastor made to run one more race on his?

Even with completing the entire race weekend in Canada, Pastor would have amassed 4034 km, right at the average for all Mercedes powered cars.

So we have 2 situations where Force India had the option to upgrade major pieces of their drivetrain but did not. One more like this and I will call it a trend, but for the moment my speculation is the same as Hippo’s..

They couldn’t afford it.

Is it possible the early PU change for Hulkenberg put FI too far into the red financially? This would explain why they have done very little chassis development so far this year. The double whammy for Perez is that going an extra race on PU #1 most likely means he will get Zero distance out of it in the future. It’s failure must be imminent, so I expect that even if he does try to use it in Austria, we will see Perez climbing out of the car in FP2 this weekend with a PU failure of some kind.

Regardless, Perez should have a brand new PU in Austria for FP3, Qualifying and Race. If he does not, I would expect Force India to collapse within weeks.


Not to be mister negative all the time, was Perez’s delay of PU change strategic in some way? If we look at the projections, Sergio would be changing to his 4th PU one race later than everyone else. This means he would potentially have a fresh PU for the Mexico GP, whereas everyone else will start Mexico with one more race on #4. Do I need to remind you where Sergio is from?

Select Image to Open PDF

MERC-FI summary specific charts-- gearbox and ICE--JUNE 13 (version 4)

Stay tuned – Next up is Williams and Lotus. You will see their ICE data is included here because that’s how I built the tables, but we will be taking a more detailed look at them in our next article.

As always your comments and suggestions are welcome and encouraged.

20 responses to “#F1 Forensics: A more detailed look at Mercedes and Force India PU and Gearbox usage

  1. Very interesting break-down of how teams are using their engine components. And as viewers, we barely get to understand those aspects of racing because all the focus is generally on the lap-time on the weekend.

    I hope we’ll see more such break-downs and analysis of how each team and each driver are doing with their respective equipments.

  2. I don’t see why Mercedes would damage their reputation by lying for Force India. There’s nothing to gain, and could have simply declined to answer or default back to Force India rather than inventing an answer for them.
    Putting that aside, delaying engine introductions will increase the chance of getting an upgraded engine. Every team will be trying to push the early engines as far as they can, this will likely mean reduced power maps and low practice running, but as they start to take later engines they will be able to run the cars faster as the lifespan won’t have the same concern.

    • “..could have simply declined to answer or default back to Force India rather than inventing an answer for them.”

      I would argue that this would have raised more eyebrows than what Toto did say.

      If his response was, “No comment, you should go ask Force India”..
      We would all know exactly what was going on.

  3. I wish someone would examine Mercedes new FRIC system that was evident when Hamilton spun out in the hairpin of FP1 in Canada. The front and rear of the car settled down at different rates as Hamilton placed the car in neutral, looking for a gear to drive away.

    • Errrr…..what FRIC are you talking about?
      The one that was bannned…..?
      Mercedes wouldn’t be doing anything dodgy……

      • @Peter Scandlyn

        Well, not all FRIC technology was banned, in my understanding.


        Charlie’s Technical Directive:
        “we would have to consider making a report to the stewards about the non-compliance of any car fitted with a system which appears to allow the response of the suspension at either or both of the rear corners to drive the response of the suspension at either or both of the front corners (or vice versa).”

        From what I see, Front can’t drive Rear, and Rear can’t drive Front. For one, I suspect the complexity of the systems these days can make it all but impossible to police the thing effectively (a bit like the engines). But other than this, this regulation doesn’t say anything about both Rear wheels working in tandem, or both Front wheels working together. I suspect this leaves quite a bit of scope for fancy spaceship solutions. So in this sense, not all of Merc’s suspension was banned…

        • Thanks landroni…..would seem then that what Andy observed could not be termed FRIC….?

          • @Peter Scandlyn
            Maybe it’s remnants of FRIC, maybe it’s just normal suspension behavior… I for one really don’t know. Would love to see a technical expert chime in… Where’s Matt or Scarbs when you need them? 🙂

          • Should I post the video of it? It’s SkyF1 and FIA property, so I don’t know if I can legally put a clip up on YouTube?

  4. FI will be saving PU components and gearboxs for the b-spec car / second half of the season. Their best chance to collect points will be when others are taking penalties

    • That’s a pragmatic Fernley like thought process… But will it help them that much? All the teams around them will benefit from Renault cars with penalties

      • I guess the question is can FI, Lotus or Sauber catch Red Bull in the constructors? or will they just take points of each other and allow Red Bull to finish 4th

  5. But do the teams that use the Mercedes unit pay per unit or per season? The customer teams don’t buy the engines, they essentially rent them for the season. Seems to me the ‘rental’ would be a seasonal cost, not a per race cost. If that were so, then Force India’s financial situation wouldn’t limit new engines. Any thoughts on that Tourdog?

    • Hey Gomer. What you say is certainly feasible. We don’t really know how the payment structure is worked out.
      I am of course speculating, as we all are, but for sake of argument, here are my thoughts:
      There is a payment structure as you suggest, and the “rental” analogy is accurate, then perhaps the answer is Mercedes is not giving FI any credit. Maybe Mercedes looked at the situation, and predicted that Nico H would probably end up using an extra PU by the end of the season, and wanted to get their money up front, as technically the early change was not part of the “contract”.
      With all the rumors swirling around the paddock of FI financial problems, that doesn’t sound too unreasonable. Maybe Merc doesn’t think FI will be around at the end of the season to pay off their tab?

      Again, I am just speculating. Though I do enjoy a good debate…

    • I’ve been thinking about this and if it was me, I wouldn’t sign a contract where I paid per engine. Imagine if you had customer Renault or Honda engines that blow up every few minutes. If you ended up using the 8 engines that Horner was saying they were going to need for the year, you’d double your engine expense for the year through no fault of your own. This is not the kind of risk someone like Force India or Sauber would need/want.

      I would think that it was an lease for the year, and if you use 4 of everything the manufacturer wins, if you end up having to use a 5th the manufacturer foots the bill for supplying an inferior product.

      To me this makes sense, but then again we are talking about F1, so its probably the opposite….

      • This does pose some interesting questions doesn’t it?
        Do the customer teams pay per unit, or a flat rate, where the manufacturer supplies engines regardless of how many are necessary?
        Is there a limit? are the testing PU’s included in this deal?

        If customers pay per unit, what happens if an ICE fails due to a manufacturing fault? what if it were due to an accident that was not the customers fault? what if the accident was caused by one of the manufacturers cars?
        So many questions, and very few answers. But it’s F1, so it doesn’t have to make sense. It just has to make money.

        • afaik it’s a rental with caveats. A team can’t be held accountable for the inherent lack of reliability of the PU. At the same time no engine supplier will supply fre of charge a new PU if the old one has been abused : blown exhausts, plugs inserted the other way around and any other out of spec procedure. I can’t put my finger on it, but I think there’s a rule somewhere which says that a team negotiates the price per season with the engine manufacturer.
          Then there’s the situation of the payments which are generally throughout the year, so one can imagine if a team (like Lotus 2 years ago) doesn’t pay, they are in breach of contract and function of the wording the PU supplier can choose not to ship any new parts.
          Here’s a thought: at the Catheram auction, have you seen any engine parts? I don’t think so and that’s because C wasn’t the owner of the “paid for” engines, not even when used.

      • You could even go as far as saying an engine contract could involve penalty clauses. After all, the poor reliability of the Renault could well end up costing Red Bull and Torro Rosso championship spots (and therefore money).

  6. OT: Does anyone know:
    Can you also use engine upgrades (either way by tokens or just for reliability) on already used engines too?
    Are reliability updates allowed for “frozen” parts of the engine

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