Interlagos – Lewis Hamilton conceded on Thursday that he may have to take a new engine and, with it, a five-place grid penalty at the Brazilian Grand Prix – a setback that might wreck his diminishing title hopes.
But, as his Mercedes team waited on the delayed arrival of freight containers following last weekend’s race in Mexico, the seven-time champion was unable to confirm his plight.
Speaking to reporters about his engine predicament, Hamilton said: "I can't really comment at the moment. I don’t know – I don’t think the engines have arrived yet, not even now this morning (Thursday).
"As far as I am aware, my engine is fine, but I’ll find out later on, obviously…. We haven’t been able to do our engineering meeting yet."
If Mercedes decide Hamilton needs a fifth engine of the season, it would trigger an automatic penalty of five places on the grid and reduce his chances of claiming a victory to trim or overhaul Max Verstappen’s 19-point advantage in the title race.
Red Bull’s Dutchman has dominated the last two races in Texas and Mexico while Hamilton has struggled, winning only once in eight races since the British Grand Prix in July.
"I think their pace was phenomenal in the last race," he said. "They've had a strong car all year -- the strongest all year. You can tell, obviously. I think we've done as much as we can.
"We will definitely be pushing this weekend to see if we can squeeze any more out of the car... we anticipate they'll be very hard to beat this weekend."
Hamilton said he felt he and Mercedes had done well to restrict their rivals’ lead in a closely-fought championship. Hamilton has won five races to Verstappen’s nine, with four remaining.
"I think people under-appreciate just how well we’ve done considering the pace they’ve had since day one… but at the end of the day, we’ve not been as fast as them most of the time."
Constructors' title 'more important'
He suggested also that rule changes this year had meant Mercedes had had their "wings clipped" – and said Red Bull had not taken full advantage.
"I don’t think they optimised and probably they made more mistakes than they would have liked.”
He insisted that the constructors’ championship was the team's main target. After winning the teams' title every year since 2014, Mercedes have only a one-point lead.
"If I’m really honest, I’m not thinking about me. We’re only one point ahead in the constructors’ and that is the most important one really.
"Of course, I want to win the drivers' championship, but the team one is so important – for the funding you get for development and for all the people who work in the factory.
"It’s not just about one person. It’s about all of us."
Formula One chiefs lifted the normal curfew on overnight work in preparing the cars after the teams’ freight shipments arrived late from Mexico due to bad weather.
The Brazilian race is the second in a triple-header of contests on three continents with races in Mexico City, Sao Paulo and Qatar.
Formula One added that the delays were not expected to have a major impact on the rest of the weekend, with most of the delayed freight due to be at the Interlagos circuit later Thursday.
Haas team chief Gunther Steiner confirmed his team were without many parts for their cars, including engines.
He said: "I think the toolboxes are missing. Without a toolbox, you cannot work – it has all gone in the freight. So basically, we cannot work on the cars."
The decision to run races on three successive weekends in three continents heaped pressure on the logistics required for the sport to proceed in a run-in that includes five final races in just six weeks running into December.
"I think we’ll get out of this one ok, I would say," added Steiner. "But, for sure, lessons will be learned. And I think the next week will be pretty tough.
"If we have this issue again next week (in Qatar), I think it has bigger consequences."