SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Mercedes flew parts in by private jet from Britain overnight to keep Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton on Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix starting grid after engine problems in qualifying.
The Briton will start the race in 10th place, with championship-leading team mate Nico Rosberg on pole position and set for his seventh win in a row, but his predicament could have been much worse.
The team said Hamilton, who has not won since he took his third title in Texas last October, would have had to start from the pitlane if a new fuel system had not been flown to Sochi from the engine factory at Brixworth.
Drivers are allowed five power units per season, and are penalized for exceeding that amount, but they can swap out the six main components without sanction as long as they remain within their quota and the parts are of the same specification.
Hamilton’s problem was that the unit in his car at Sochi had been upgraded since the previous race in China and the team did not have a spare fuel system in Russia of the same specification.
“We had to fly out a fuel system on a chartered jet yesterday evening, arriving here in the early hours, and the spare engine was then kitted with these parts during the night,” a spokesman said.
The engine is not subject to strict post-qualifying ‘parc ferme’ rules which keep the car off limits to mechanics overnight.
“When the car came out of parc ferme this morning, the spare power unit was fitted and has now fired up successfully in the garage,” said the spokesman.
Hamilton has won the only two races held to date in Sochi, taking last year’s after Rosberg started on pole position and then suffered a throttle failure.
The Briton had started from the back of the grid in China after failing to set a time in qualifying due to another power unit failure.
Mercedes said they had re-fitted the unit Hamilton used in the Australian season-opener in Melbourne, which was the spare for Sochi.
The control electronics and energy store were replaced to eliminate them as a potential source of the problem but the unit that failed will not be inspected until the return to the factory.
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar