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Red Bull boss Christian Horner has questioned Mercedes’ “unusual” gamble to take another internal combustion engine [ICE] for Valtteri Bottas ahead of the United States Grand Prix.
Mercedes are back in worrying territory again, as the seven-time world champions were forced to take another ICE for Bottas, triggering yet another grid penalty for the Finn, this time just a five-place setback.
Bottas has already been hit twice this season, in both Italy and Russia, after taking more engines than the allocated three that are permitted across a season.
And last time out in Turkey, Lewis Hamilton found himself with a ten-place grid penalty due to an engine change, with Wolff reporting “unusual noises” coming from the seven-time world champion’s engine before the change.
However, Horner reckons Mercedes are using Bottas as a scapegoat, to make sure Hamilton is in the best position possible in his championship fight with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
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“I think they’re obviously weighing up that risk versus reward,” Horner said.
“It’s very unusual for Mercedes that have been, obviously, so far the benchmark in reliability the last six or seven years. It’s unusual that they’re in this situation.”
Both Verstappen and Sergio Perez have taken components this season, with the Dutchman taking a fresh power unit in Russia.
And Horner admits he’s optimistic they won’t have to take another.
“We’re hoping to get through the end of the year on what we have, that’s our assumption,” he said.
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“But situations can change quite quickly, as you can see. So you can never say never, but we feel that by taking a penalty, it’s put us back into a reasonable position.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff added to concerns on Friday, admitting they have “no durability” with their engines.
But Horner believes that’s down to the added pressure Red Bull have been piling on Mercedes this season, as the Milton Keynes-based team gun for their first championship title since 2013.
He said: “At pretty much every race, we’ve managed to give them a hard time. So when you consider how dominant they’ve been the last seven years, and this car is largely a carryover of last year’s car, which was arguably their most dominant car, it’s testimony to the team that we’ve got ourselves into this position to be challenging them with six races to go.”
With six races remaining, a DNF for either of the title challengers would almost certainly cost them the title, and Horner laughed when he was asked about whether unreliability is something he’s hoping for: “I don’t know, it depends who’s unreliable!”
Verstappen leads the way by six points heading into the race in Austin, with qualifying taking place on Saturday at 10pm.
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