MONZA — The outcome of the 2016 Formula 1 drivers’ world championship may be decided by the capricious nature of Mercedes’ clutches, unless the team finds a reliable solution to its ongoing poor starts.
That was the unwanted scenario in prospect for both title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg ahead of a meeting at the team factory at Brackley on Tuesday when a series of bad getaways from the grid goes under the technical microscope.
Mercedes’ drivers have failed to take advantage of seven pole positions this season.
Series leader and defending three-time champion Hamilton was the latest to suffer when, after blitzing to pole position with a memorable qualifying lap on Saturday, he was bogged down at the start of Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix and fell down to sixth.
That he eventually finished second behind the triumphant Rosberg was of little consolation as his lead in the championship was trimmed from nine points to two, with seven races remaining.
"We never stop improving and learning but this year has been a hard year for us with our clutch," said the 31-year-old Briton in the wake of Sunday’s race.
"They’ll be working very hard. It’s not a quick fix. It’s not something we can change for the next race. We have made improvements so you’ve seen better starts, but we are still caught out by the random variation that we have from one start to another.
"We do practice starts all weekend and they vary a little bit and then, every now and then, we get a drastic variation.
"You’ve seen it with Nico. You’ve seen it with me, quite a few times. It’s something we need to continue to work on.
"I can assure you we’ll be talking about it on Tuesday.
"We’ll try to get as much information and learn as much as we can to try and make sure in the remaining seven races that we’re not struggling to get off the line from pole positions."
Hamilton’s sluggish start at Monza was not his first and followed similar problems for him in Australia, Bahrain, Spain and Canada, while Rosberg was the victim of clutch gremlins in Melbourne, Hungary and Germany.
As arguments raged over who was responsible for this latest failure to convert a dominant pole into a secure victory, Hamilton and team chief Toto Wolff both side-stepped "the blame game" and took a broader view.
Hamilton said he had gone through his start procedures correctly, but this had created too much torque, which in turn had resulted in wheel-spin.
Wolff said: "In this team, I will never blame anybody — not the driver, not the engineer, nobody.
"If you start to blame, this is where you start going downhill because people try to protect themselves and [then we] have a conservative system in place, rather than putting the best development on the car.
"Nobody is to blame and in this particular case it’s a combination of many things. We changed the rules last year [going from a double to a single clutch start] and this is why I don’t want to go there.
"Once we’ve seen all the data, we’ll address it internally to see what needs to be done in order for it to be avoided."