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Formula 1 Spanish GP

Verstappen set for F1 engine grid penalty as Honda inspection nears conclusion

World champion faces F1 grid penalty as Honda inspection of his Canada engine does not look like bringing good news

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Max Verstappen is bracing himself for potentially bad news, with Honda increasingly likely to confirm he has lost one of his Formula 1 power units.

An early demise of the nearly new engine that was removed from his car in Canada, and is currently being inspected at Honda's headquarters at Sakura in Japan, would require Verstappen to soon add an extra power unit to his pool.

And having already used up his fourth and final internal combustion engine of the season at last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, taking another one would trigger an automatic 10-place grid penalty.

Such a drop could prove significant with the Red Bull driver being locked in an increasingly tight fight with McLaren for race victories.

Montreal failure

The situation Verstappen finds himself in was triggered in Montreal earlier this month when the Dutchman was forced to stop early in the second practice because of a suspected problem with his energy recovery system.

While those issues appeared to be electrical, there were concerns that they could have caused wider damage to the rest of the power unit – especially the internal combustion engine element.

The one run in Canada was a new installation (Verstappen's third of the year) and had been introduced that morning.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB20

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

The ERS problem prompted Honda to remove that engine from his car and fly it direct to Japan, where it is now undergoing analysis to work out if it can be saved and put back into the pool or if it is completely dead.

The latter situation, which would mean Verstappen losing one quarter of his allocation for the year, is potentially why he said in Canada he was worried about consequences further down the road.

"I think it's more important to just figure out what actually happened and what kind of implications that will have for this weekend or the rest of the year," he said.

With it now being more than two weeks since the Canada unit has been in Japan, and without any positive news so far, it is looking increasingly likely that the internal combustion engine cannot be rescued.

Had no problems shown up in early running, then it would almost certainly have been given a sign-off by now and returned to Red Bull.

With Red Bull losing the Canada engine as those inspections continue, it was forced to introduce its fourth PU at last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix – just to give itself enough components in the pool to run without worries in forthcoming practice and races.

As Red Bull team boss Christian Horner explained: "We introduced it to the pool, while the Canada engine has been returned for inspection to Japan."

Grid penalty consequence

Confirmation that the engine cannot be used again would mean Verstappen being forced to move onto his fifth power unit quite soon – which would trigger a 10-place drop.

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Christian Horner, Team Principal, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

In fact, Horner himself has suggested that he thinks it is now something his squad will definitely have to face.

"We'd have to see how it plays out over the coming races, but I think it's inevitable that we'll take the next engine at some point," he said.

Red Bull is no stranger to swallowing grid penalties though, and it has famously opted to take them at races where overtaking is easier – like the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps that is coming up before the summer break.

Verstappen has taken grid penalties there for the past two seasons. Last year he won from sixth on the grid, while in 2022 he came through to first from 14th.

However, with Red Bull not holding the kind of performance advantage that it had in the past, repeating such dramatic progress may be harder this time around.

A grid drop for Verstappen would be great news for McLaren and Lando Norris, which has emerged as Red Bull's most consistent challenge so far and could take a big chunk of points off its rival if such an event plays out at an inopportune moment.

Watch: Spanish GP Race Analysis - Why F1's "Fastest Car" Couldn't Beat Verstappen

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