Red Bull's Christian Horner suspects that Mercedes aren't doing everything in their power to avoid taking engine grid penalties, and that there may be some willingness from the Brackley-based team to take the penalties in exchange for a pool of fresh engine components as the season winds down.
Valtteri Bottas has taken on another new Internal Combustion Engine for the United States Grand Prix weekend, his sixth of the season. Crucially, Bottas will only serve a five-place grid penalty, due to the rules being less punishing for subsequent components used after the first in excess of the three-unit allowance.
This will also apply to Lewis Hamilton if and when he requires another new ICE, as he served a 10-place penalty last time out in Turkey. The ICE appears to be the weak point in the Mercedes power unit, with the other ancillaries such as the MGU-H, MGU-K and Turbocharger all going unchanged for both drivers.
With Hamilton embroiled in a titanic World Championship battle with Red Bull's Max Verstappen, Horner believes that there may be some gamesmanship from Mercedes to increase the pool of engines at this point to give them a possible performance advantage with fresher engines in the closing races.
"I think they're obviously weighing up that risk versus reward," Horner told select members of the media, including RacingNews365.com.
"It's very unusual for Mercedes that have been, obviously, so far the benchmark in reliability the last six or seven years. It's unusual that they're in this situation."
Red Bull aren't expecting to have to slot in any new engine parts for Verstappen or Sergio Perez, with both taking on fresh power units and serving penalties in recent races.
Horner is cautiously optimistic that there won't be a need for any more new Honda power unit parts.
"We're hoping to get through the end of the year on what we have, that's our assumption," he said.
"But situations can change quite quickly, as you can see. So you can never say never, but we feel that by taking a penalty, it's put us back into a reasonable position."
Given the suspected unreliability of the Mercedes power unit, with team boss Toto Wolff admitting to "no durability" on the engine front on Friday, Horner said that's likely down to how strong the Red Bull challenge has been.
"I think we are pushing them hard this year, I mean we've really thrown everything at them this season," added Horner.
"At pretty much every race, we've managed to give them a hard time. So when you consider how dominant they've been the last seven years, and this car is largely a carryover of last year's car, which was arguably their most dominant car, it's testimony to the team that we've got ourselves into this position to be challenging them with six races to go."
With six races remaining, a DNF for either of the title challengers would almost certainly cost them the title, and Horner laughed when he was asked about whether unreliability is something he's hoping for: "I don't know, it depends who's unreliable!"