Reliability has been a major focus of this year’s championship battle to start. ATRL’s Natasha Warcholak-Switzer takes a look at the top 3 engine suppliers and their results so far this season.
After an exciting first week in Bahrain, which concluded with both Ferraris on the podium, it was clear that the pre-season talk about the Scuderia was more than just speculation. If the team truly had the pace to compete with the World Champions at Red Bull, then that meant that the race to this year’s championship would be wide open.
Ferrari’s engine performance early on displayed exactly what the series-wide changes were supposed to be about: closer racing with more overtaking. The updated regulations ensured a reduction in downforce, leading to easier passing, higher overall speed, and a racing environment that had Red Bull and Ferrari sparring over first place early in the championship. Until Australia, the fans got the edge-of-your-seat type of racing anticipated in 2022.
Since Imola, however, for better or worse, Ferrari’s engine reliability has been in the spotlight; when the highs of a double-podium finish in Miami are followed by the heartbreak that the Ferraris experienced in Monaco and now Azerbaijan, it’s understandable to have questions. So what happened to the engines we saw at the beginning of the season? What has team Red Bull been doing to fix their own issues in Milton Keynes? And finally, how’d Mercedes make such a quiet comeback? All can be answered by digging into each team’s engine reliability after Baku.
While early momentum proved that the Ferraris were capable of catching Red Bull, the reliability issue has made it difficult for the Scuderia to showcase the full potential of the engine. After one car’s power unit failed and the other had a race-ending hydraulic issue, the team and fans alike are left wondering what’s next after Baku.
“[Apart from] reliability it hasn’t been that bad [this year, but] it’s getting momentum, and trying to have consecutive races clean this year, it’s been impossible,” said Carlos Sainz.
Sainz also opened up about another downside to the engine’s struggles for reliability – not only does the team lose out on valuable points, but when you can’t complete races as a driver, it makes it impossible to learn from the car.
“Especially the DNF comes in Lap 9 and I’m still looking to get laps, and get knowledge from the car, it is very difficult and so far, the 2022 season has decided to go this way for me and it’s frustrating, it’s extremely frustrating but we will have to recover this and we will need to stay patient and positive,” Sainz said.
When a driver can’t build on the knowledge gained from driving the car during race weekend, that also means less data for the team to work with, and that makes the issue even tougher to climb out of. Charles Leclerc voiced his own frustrations with the car and his hopes for finding a solution to the reliability issue.
“We were in the lead of the race, I was managing the tyres well, we just had to manage the tyres and the race till the end, which I think was… we were definitely in the best position possible to do that. Another DNF – it hurts… We really need to look into that for it to not happen again,” Leclerc said.
Even though it’s not clear yet what the issue is, the team has much to sort out after Montreal where Leclerc starts from the back and Sainz taking a new ICE. With five races left until the summer break, there’s still time for the Ferraris to find their footing again. But with Red Bull and Mercedes now in the hunt, finding a solution in the next few weeks will be critical in deciding if the team will remain in the running for the championship.
It’s hard to believe that the most reliable engine supplier in recent weeks wasn’t even on the grid in 2021. Between the pace of the two Ferraris and a pair of early DNFs for World Champion Max Verstappen, it was difficult to see the true power of Red Bull’s new in-house engine operation early on. But after another decisive win in Baku, the engineers in Milton Keynes have much to celebrate. Not only is the team living up to the high expectations set by last year’s championship win, but they’re doing it as their own engine supplier.
When their partnership with Honda ended in 2021, there was chatter about whether there’d be an adjustment period. Try telling that to Max Verstappen – even though his early struggles accumulated a 46-point deficit, he’s once again leading the Drivers’ Championship.
“Of course, we had our misfortune at the beginning of the year so we knew we had to play a bit of catch-up, but it seems like now it’s more or less evened out with the bad luck, and yes, you know you have to score points every single weekend if you want to really fight for the championship,” Verstappen said. “Everyone knows that, everyone tries that, but it’s not always that easy.” (Source: F1.com)
Red Bull’s second seat, which has changed hands often in recent years, seems to have finally found its match with Sergio Perez. Besides having the most reliable engine on the grid right now, forced errors for the pair are far and few between – the Red Bulls are exactly where they want to be right now, with the rest of the grid watching closely.
After years of being the front-runner in both championships, Mercedes is adjusting to a new place on the grid – top of the midfield. It’s hard to say whether Ferrari and Red Bull simply have better pace or there’s another issue at play. Still, despite struggles to get their usual share of points, the Mercedes engines have been reliable enough to keep George Russell in fourth in the Drivers’ Championship. Mercedes hasn’t had the communication or pit stop issues that other teams have, but they’re still searching for a solution to the porpoising issue that’s affecting several teams after the car was redesigned for 2022.
“Third and fourth is a great result for the team. The team did a great job with the strategy and once we’ve fixed this bouncing we’re going to be right there in the race,” said Lewis Hamilton in the team’s Sunday report.
Russell gave kudos to the team back in Brackley and Brixworth, and sounded hopeful that the momentum the Silver Arrows are building would continue into next week.
“We didn’t get the podium on pure pace today but we did it because the team have worked very hard to deliver a reliable car,” said Russell. “We know we aren’t quick enough and we’ve got a long way to go to bring performance. We’re experimenting and trying things, one week turnaround to Montreal will be tough to find the solution but hopefully we’ll get there soon.”
The engineering team echoed Russell in acknowledging that while it was a good finish in Baku, the team’s podium result was more of a victory of good circumstances than based purely on pace.
“We were lucky to inherit the Ferrari positions today, the gaps to the front are just as big as Monaco, we’re currently heading up the midfield and that won’t leave anyone in Brackley or Brixworth satisfied,” said Andrew Shovlin, the Trackside Engineering Director.
It’s that determination that’s given Mercedes the pedigree that racing fans have come to know, but whether they’ll be toe to toe with Red Bull at the end of the season? It’s difficult to know. If Ferrari is unable to find the missing link in their engine, there just might be some more room at the top.
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