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Williams-Mercedes Power Units went the distance, both covering just over 4200 KM and 7 races. A combination of Bottas running a little more often in practice, and Massa only running 7 laps FP2 in China, and 0 laps FP2 in Australia, made up the difference for Bottas missing a race, putting them statistically about even in distance.
Using the same 5000 Km end-of –life standard we applied to Mercedes, both Massa and Bottas should be able to run about 7 Free Practice sessions with their old PU. So look for Susie and Sutil to both get some seat time over the next few races. As with Mercedes, this may very well push back the installation date of their 3rd Power Unit significantly.
Williams gearbox situation however, is fairly unique. Bottas participated in every session of the Australian GP, except the actual race. So Bottas covered about 60% of the total weekend distance with his PU and gearbox, but reaped no rewards. The bigger issue is that he Did Not Start. Since he didn’t participate in the actual race, he did not get 1 of the 6 races checked off of his gearbox allocation. So Bottas had to run the next 6 races, through the end of Canada, on his first gearbox. If he had started the first race, and then retired after the first lap, he could have changed his gearbox before the second race without penalty. Since he didn’t start, he had to keep his gearbox an extra race, compared to everyone else.
So, why does this matter, well, if we project out through the end of the season, something interesting happens. Assuming all the major players finish every race, and change their gearboxes after 6 finishes, MAS, HAM, ROS, PER, HUL, VET, NAS, & RIC, will all be running a brand new 4th gearbox at the final race in Abu Dhabi, where Bottas will be running the 6th race on his 3rd gearbox. Will that make a difference? Who knows. As Matt has pointed out, teams regularly change out gears, syncros, dog bones, etc on the gearboxes. They seem to be able to change out pretty much what ever they want of the internals on the grounds of “reliability”, or some other such smokescreen.
But for sake of argument, if we assume a New Gearbox is better than a Used one, then Bottas will be at a disadvantage compared to his peers at the final race. If we look back 6-7 races, we can speculate that if Bottas finds himself in a non-points scoring position at the end of the Belgium or Italian GP, it may be to his advantage to “retire” the car before the checkered flag. Not finishing would allow him to change gearboxes, and put him either even with the leaders, or at single race deficit in terms of distance run. Would a retirement from a points scoring position, just to change his gearbox installation date be worth it? Most probably not. But there’s still a lot of time between now and then, so who knows.
I am going to try very hard not be dismissive or condescending towards Pastor. There is a lot the raw data doesn’t tell us about a driver, and Pastor is a great example of that in 2015.
He has technically only crossed the finish line once in 7 races, finishing 7th in Canada. He was Classified in Bahrain, but he was in the pits and did not cross the finish line. His problems supposedly have not been reliability related, just “Pastor crashing”. So lets look.
We know the Mercedes PU is pretty solid, and he has the fewest kilometres of any Mercedes powered driver anyway, however he has changed his gearbox 5 times.
Since Lotus is building their own gearbox for the first time in a while, is it possible the gearbox is really what’s causing Pastors problems?
The only other car we have to compare him to is Romain’s. GRO failed to finish in
Australia, going only a single lap. This allowed him a penalty free gearbox change in Malaysia, so he took it. Pastor did as well.
Pastor DNF’d in Malaysia, so he did another penalty free gearbox change in China.
China, again a DNF, so Pastor changed to his 4th gearbox before Bahrain. Pastor’s classification in Bahrain meant he had to keep his 4th gearbox for Spain.
A DNF in Spain meant gearbox number 5 in Monaco for Pastor.
Romain managed to finish races 2-5, putting 4 checkmarks out of 6 on his gearbox, but then in Monaco, oops, 5 place grid penalty for doing a change, and not going 6 races.
Did everyone catch that? Pastor used 5 gearboxes in 6 races (through Monaco) without incurring a penalty, yet Romain covered the same distance (actually more, and finished 5 races to Pastor’s Zero) with only 3 gearboxes, and yet he took a 5 place grid penalty hit in Monaco.
So what does all this mean. Quite simply, Lotus might have an inherent gearbox problem that is hurting Pastor. Romain’s penalty proves that they have yet to make it 6 races on a single gearbox. But I think this more clearly demonstrated what I am going to call…
THE GEARBOX TAX
It is inherently advantageous to install a new gearbox at the following race if a car DNF’s. For a team like Mercedes this is no big deal. What is the cost of an extra gearbox or two over the season, in the Billion-dollar picture? But this might become a huge problem for the midfielders.
In order to remain competitive, teams MUST change their gearbox if given the opportunity to do so without penalty. I currently project Lotus to use a minimum of 13 gearboxes this year, it will most likely be more towards the 16 mark, and that does not include the regular replacement of parts that happens so often I haven’t been able to find it all.
So if we throw out a random cost to buy/build a gearbox at 100,000 euro, plus another 100,000 in parts and labor over the season, Lotus is spending 1.7 million Euro this year on gearboxes, and we have not talked about development costs yet.
So the way I read this, is if the rules regarding how gearboxes are utilised were designed to increase longevity, and reduce costs, they have had the opposite effect.
Put simply, if you don’t finish a race, you have to buy/build another gearbox. Since the midfield and are more likely to DNF, they are paying a financial penalty for each failure, in addition to any points lost.
I do not have an answer as to how to fix this problem, but I think we can now all agree that there is one.
Lastly, I would like to point out Lotus just announced Joylen Palmer will be driving in FP1 over the next five races. This makes sense, as Pastors PU#1 only has about 3,300 Km on it, and Romain’s only about 3,800 KM . Lotus should be able to take either of the old PU’s for the practice sessions, allowing Palmer to drive Romains car without putting unnecessary distance on the current PU.
The money Palmer brings will surely be needed.
Thanks for reading.
As usual, I encourage criticism, and stay tuned for our next instalment, covering Ferrari, Sauber, and possibly the race team that FOM refuses to acknowledge.