Can Mercedes be caught? McLaren’s Boullier thinks so

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The factory Mercedes squad has left rivals in their dust in terms of outright pace, and, save for Lewis Hamilton early in the Australian Grand Prix, early season reliability thus far.

Thus far though drivers with a Mercedes power unit have achieved eight of the nine possible podium finishes, and it’s that stat among other areas that gives McLaren racing director Eric Boullier hope that the factory squad can be caught.

The time gap, he said during a conference call this week, is something that can be clawed back easier this year compared to last.

“To be honest, I think it is,” Boullier said, via the official Formula One website. “It’s true that the gap is huge now, but a one-second gap is catchable. I know a lot of areas we can work on and improve, so I think they can definitely be caught.”

McLaren ended 2-3 in the Australian Grand Prix following Daniel Ricciardo’s disqualification for exceeding the fuel flow rate.

Thus far McLaren, as well as fellow Mercedes-powered teams of Force India and Williams, emerged as strongest in the pecking order in a dry weekend following the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Hartley to make F1 debut from back of grid after penalty

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Brendon Hartley’s hopes of a points finish on his Formula 1 debut took a hit on Friday after the FIA confirmed the Toro Rosso driver will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso as a surprise replacement for Pierre Gasly in Austin, with the Frenchman tied up with Super Formula duties at Suzuka this weekend.

Hartley took to the track in an official grand prix session for the first time on Friday in Austin, marking his first run-out in an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 20120.

However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his pre-race report that changes had been made to the power unit on Hartley’s Toro Rosso car since the last race in Japan, triggering a grid penalty.

Toro Rosso elected to take a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics on Hartley’s Renault power unit, totaling a 25-place grid drop that will be applied after qualifying. Confirmation of the penalty is set to follow later today.

The penalty comes as a setback for Hartley, but was necessary as Toro Rosso found itself short on engine elements to get to the end of the season.

Hartley is not the only driver to have a penalty confirmed, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne also taking new engine elements, also confirmed in Bauer’s report.

A new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H for Hulkenberg will see him drop 20 places on the grid, while an eighth ICE of the year for Vandoorne will trigger a five-place drop.