Red Bull Racing Wants F1 to Crack Down on Mercedes’ ‘Party Mode’ Engine Setting

Mercedes’ special engine mode is rumored to be worth between one and four tenths in qualifying.

byDaan de Geus|
Red Bull Racing Wants F1 to Crack Down on Mercedes’ ‘Party Mode’ Engine Setting

Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner has called on Formula 1 to restrict the use of separate engine modes for qualifying, pointing to Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton's dominant performance in qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix as a prime example of how damaging they are to the competition.

Things were close initially at Melbourne's Albert Park Street Circuit as less than one-tenth of a second separated the pole sitter Hamilton from both Ferraris and Red Bull's Max Verstappen in the final round of qualifying. Hamilton turned it up in his second run, however, pulling out a gap of six-tenths on Kimi Raikkonen.

'Party Mode'

Much has been made of whether Hamilton himself actually "turned up" after a few perhaps messy laps, or if the difference was made by a special qualifying engine setting he had labeled "party mode" ahead of the weekend. Hamilton, however, said he used the same engine mode for his final Q3 run as he had before, and in Q2.

Red Bull Racing chief Helmut Marko, however, told Austria's ORF Mercedes' engine mode is worth "three to four tenths." Hamilton's championship-rival Sebastian Vettel, who qualified third but won the race thanks to a clever strategy call, instead put it at "a tenth, probably a little more, but not seven tenths." Vettel also argued Mercedes qualifying mode is "probably even a bit less" powerful than it was last year, crediting Hamilton's leap to the Briton having "a very good lap."

Red Bull Racing Team Principal Horner, in any case, told Sky Sports F1 that: "Maybe engine modes should be the same from the moment you leave the garage [in qualifying] to the end of the race." Horner thus suggesting engine mode changes should be part of the parc ferme restrictions, which severely limit the work a team can do on its car from the beginning of qualifying until the start of the race.

Political Backdrop

Horner's idea is interesting, but perhaps not the most practical and likely to lack support, as teams also use different engine modes to let their power units run lean to save fuel or manage wear. Especially with the number of engine units a driver is allowed to use throughout the season reduced from four to three for 2018, managing wear is crucial.

The Red Bull Racing Team Principal's comments also cannot be seen separate from his team's engine manufacturer Renault lacking a special qualifying setting, and come amid increasingly tense discussions about Formula 1's future. The sport's owner Liberty Media wants to introduce simpler and cheaper engines from 2021 on in addition to a budget cap and more equal distribution of wealth with Mercedes and Ferrari wary of things changing too much.