Lewis Hamilton fears he will have to start at least two races from the back of the grid as mechanical issues continue to blight the defence of his Formula One title.
The world champion, 24 points adrift of his Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg, will start Sunday’s Austrian Grand Prix with a fresh engine - his third of the campaign so far.
But under the sport’s complex engine rules, Hamilton will be demoted to last place for using more components than is permitted during a season. And with more than half of this marathon 21-race campaign still to run, the Briton believes it is almost inevitable that he will be penalised again.
“Before this year I don’t think reliability was a huge thing,” said Hamilton. “The team’s always trying to get 100 per cent reliability, and if you can get somewhere near the 90s, you’re looking good for fighting for the championship.
“But this year it’s been different, and I don’t have an answer for why that’s happened.
“I’m starting with my last engine this weekend, and I will have at least one race where I start dead last, and that could most likely be two.”
In contrast, Rosberg, a back-to-back winner here in Spielberg since its return to the calender in 2014, has encountered fewer engine problems this season.
Mercedes supply engines to three other teams in the paddock - Williams, Force India, and Manor - and Hamilton has admitted he is struggling to understand why he has been the hardest hit.
“The worst thing is I’m the only Mercedes driver to have that problem,” Hamilton added.