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Home » Sport » MotorSport

Hamilton's engine plight

Lewis Hamilton may have built up a 19-point lead over Nico Rosberg, but could the ramifications of the reliability problems which left him behind earlier in the season come back to bite over the second half of 2016?

How close is Lewis to an engine penalty?Hamilton has reached the penalty-free limit for two of the six power-unit elements.

F1's hybrid power units are made up of the internal combustion engine (ICE), turbocharger, MGU-H, MGU-K, energy store and control electronics - and each driver is free to use five of each during the season without penalty.

But as a hangover of reliability problems on his car at 2016's early flyaway rounds, and a power unit change after glitches at the European GP, a fifth turbocharger and fifth MGU-H were fitted onto Hamilton's car in Austria. One more of either component will trigger a grid penalty.

The widely-used, jargon-busting shorthand has been to say Hamilton is up to five 'engines'. However, while easier to explain, that is not strictly true as he has used only three ICEs - the same as Rosberg.

What are the possible penalties?F1's engine penalty rules have regularly bewildered and befuddled over the past two years, but here is what happens when a driver uses six or more of any one engine element:

A 10-place grid penalty is applied when any sixth element is first used by a driverA five-place penalty is then imposed the first time a remaining sixth element is usedThe same rules applies when a driver receives seventh, eighth, elements and so on

Is a Hamilton penalty now inevitable?The world champion has already braced himself for starting at least one race towards the back of the field later in the season. After his Silverstone victory, he told Sky F1: "I've obviously got this one engine and I'm going to try and make it last as long as it can.

"Then start at back at one of the races with the penalty, probably after the, but hopefully then be able to see through the rest of the races with that engine."

"We were trying to make it on four, now it's clearly making it on five. It looks like we might have a penalty with him, but we don't know," Wolff said. "We need to see how the next two races pan out and then decide after or during the shutdown."

What penalty would he take?Hamilton would take a 15-place grid penalty were a sixth MGU-H and turbocharger to be installed onto his Mercedes for the same race weekend.

However, one sixth element in isolation would only result in a 10-place demotion.

Mercedes do have the option of reusing previously-used elements from their pool of five were it practical, but given two MGU-Hs failed on Hamilton's car in China and Russia and a new design was subsequently introduced for Spain, such a plan may be more difficult.

Hamilton himself has suggested Mercedes could unlock additional engine elements on the same weekend they take a penalty in order to widen their pool of fresh parts for the remainder of the season. While such a tactic would definitely result in the world champion starting one race from the back, there are no longer carry-over penalties if a full grid drop cannot be applied.

Where will he take his penalties?Mercedes want Hamilton to take his penalties at one of the next two races in Belgium or Italy, with a Monza grid drop more likely.

The inevitable risks of starting in the middle of the grid are harder to avoid, however. Monza, for example, features one of the narrowest runs to Turn One with the chicane routinely the scene of first-corner collisions.

Nonetheless, starting 16th or 17th at Monza would theoretically be easier for Hamilton to recover from than the same starting position on Singapore's far slower street circuit later that month.

Where does Rosberg stand?The championship leader has not used more than three of any one engine element so far.

However, any fresh reliability problems for Mercedes means the prospect of Rosberg taking a grid penalty later in the season cannot be ruled out either.

And what about reprimands?The other concern for Hamilton is he is only one more stewards' reprimand away from a separate 10-place grid penalty.

Drivers are dropped 10 places at a race if they reach three reprimands during a season, provided two of the sanctions have been for driving offences.

Both of Hamilton's 2016 sanctions fall into that category. He picked up his first reprimand at April's Bahrain GP for reversing in the pit lane after qualifying, with his second imposed two races later in Russia for not rejoining the track in the correct manner.

Rosberg is on one reprimand, picked up for driving with a damaged car on the final lap of the Austrian GP after his collision with Hamilton.

So, in a nutshell?Hamilton is almost certain to take one grid penalty over the second half of the season - at least 10 places and probably 15 if Mercedes introduce fresh sixth elements together.

However, if Mercedes' attempts to manage their engine usage from there are successful, Hamilton may be able to avoid any further penalty-hit grands prix.

In a title battle that has featured numerous twists and turns already, little can be second guessed.

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