Lewis Hamilton will have a five-place grid penalty at Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix after his Mercedes team decided to fit a new engine to his car.
Mercedes has struggled with engine complications all year and Hamilton has now used five for the season, which is two over the quota of three allowed in the regulations.
When he first exceeded his engine quota at the Turkish Grand Prix with his fourth engine of the year he received a 10-place penalty, but because he has already broken the quota, his fifth engine only equates to the five-place penalty.
The engine quota is in the regulations to stop teams from spending excessive amounts of money on fitting new engines every race weekend.
The engine change is bad news for Hamilton’s chances of winning an eighth world championship this year as he already trails title rival Max Verstappen by 19 points.
If Verstappen wins in Brazil he can follow Hamilton home in second place at the three remaining races and still win the championship.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff explained that the engine change was prompted by a degradation in performance on his other available engine rather than concerns about an outright failure.
“We feel we can score more points [by changing the engine], we have deg on the engine until the end of the season, so it’s just going to decrease in power,” he said. “We haven’t yet realised why that is but we are seeing it go down.
“Without going into specifics, every engine is degrading, and we have seen that over 1000km in the past years there is a certain amount of kilowatts the engine is degrading and ours is just degrading much more than the average of the past few years.
“That increases from weekend to weekend so if we keep the engine we would for sure not be competitive in Saudi and Abu Dhabi.”
The Sao Paulo Grand Prix is the last race weekend of the year to be run under F1’s new sprint format.
The revised weekend format means Sunday’s grid will be decided by a sprint race on Saturday rather than a fastest-lap qualifying session, with the grid for the sprint race decided by a traditional qualifying session on Friday afternoon.
Hamilton’s penalty will only apply to Sunday’s race, meaning he will start the sprint from wherever he qualifies on Friday.
Three points are on offer for the winner of the sprint race, with two points for second place and one point for third.