Team principal Toto Wolff revealed on Saturday that a “gremlin” related to the MGU-K meant all of the Mercedes power units had to be turned down in Abu Dhabi.
Max Verstappen took pole position for Red Bull on Saturday ahead of Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton, and was able to comfortably defeat them in the race.
Verstappen mentioned that Mercedes had its power units turned down in the press conference, but neither Bottas nor Hamilton were aware.
Bottas finished more than 15 seconds behind Verstappen at the chequered flag, while Hamilton crossed the line less than two seconds clear of Alexander Albon, who finished fourth in the sister Red Bull car.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin explained after the race that the power unit setting did not explain such a big gap to the Red Bull’s pace, calling its impact “small”.
“[It was] not an amount that’s going to determine the race result,” Shovlin said.
“You’re talking significantly less than a tenth of a second, so not the difference between first and second.”
Shovlin said the MGU-K issue was “not fully understood yet”, and that the decision to run the power units in the conservative mode came through caution.
“I would say that rather than being acutely aware of a specific problem, we are operating the power unit in a way that is as conservative as we can be in order to try and avoid a problem,” Shovlin said.
“But when you don’t understand exactly the string of issues, all you can do is just be a bit cautious.
“During the race we were trying to reduce the duty marginally, but you’re right, the drivers wouldn’t have necessarily been aware of it.
“It was just something we were trying to manage in the background.”
Mercedes was denied the chance to try and split strategies to pincer Verstappen with its cars by a safety car period early on that forced most teams on to the same strategy.
But Shovlin doubted split strategies would have been enough to beat Red Bull in Abu Dhabi.
“You can do something different, but to be honest, the result would probably be relatively inevitable,” Shovlin said.
“Once you have all cars on the same age tyres, it neutralises the racing a bit and there wasn’t a lot of opportunity therein.
“If it hadn’t been for [the safety car], we would have probably used one car to pull Max in, let the other one go long, try to create a tyre delta.
“Whether it would have resulted in any position gain, looking at their pace, they were very comfortable, so I doubt it.”