Why F1's title contenders have diverged on taking engine penalties

Red Bull motorsport boss Helmut Marko has explained why the decision was taken to give Max Verstappen a new power unit at Formula 1's Russian GP.

Why F1's title contenders have diverged on taking engine penalties

Verstappen changed all his Honda power unit elements between FP1 and FP2 at Sochi, and the Dutchman will thus start Sunday's race from the back of the grid.

All teams are under pressure to switch their drivers to a fourth power unit as it becomes increasingly clear that it will be difficult to make the end of the season without a change, now that the full calendar has been confirmed.

Pushing mileage risks reliability issues, while performance also tapers off the more a power unit is used.

Verstappen was in an even more difficult position than most after one of his units suffered damage in the crash on the first lap of the British GP, so his team knew that a change was inevitable.

The Dutchman came to Russia with a three-place grid penalty after his incident with Lewis Hamilton at Monza. With Mercedes traditionally on strong form in Sochi, the decision was made to take the hit this weekend.

Marko has also revealed that the team has the option to change only two elements – believed to be the V6 and the turbo – which would have resulted in just a 10-place hit.

However, it was eventually decided to change everything, a move that automatically sends a driver to the back of the grid.

"Mercedes being so strong here, let's say we finish third in qualifying," Marko told Autosport. "Plus three is six, so 16, because we could have changed with only 10 places penalty, we had that choice.

"But between 16 and 20 doesn't make a difference. So we chose to take everything. It's safety, and you can attack in the coming races. You don't have to worry."

Asked what Verstappen can achieve in Sunday's race, he said: "Qualifying doesn't matter for us. So we will focus on race set-up. It's depending on how the race is going, is there a safety car or not?

"On the other hand, nobody thought that you could overtake in Zandvoort, and [Sergio] Perez went up to I think eighth place with an extra stop. I think a lot of things are possible."

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes W12

Photo by: Charles Coates / Motorsport Images

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said that his team has no immediate plans to equip Hamilton with a fourth power unit.

Hamilton's teammate Valtteri Bottas took a new engine at Monza and, having won the sprint qualifying event, he started the grand prix from the back of the grid.

Wolff insisted that Mercedes wants to make the most of its strong form at Sochi and bag maximum points for Hamilton, who was second fastest behind Bottas on Friday.

"I think we have a good opportunity here," Wolff told Autosport. "If everything goes to plan that we are starting in the front, and hopefully can have a strong points finish.

"I think at the moment we're just looking at the development of the power unit in terms of signs of reliability issues, which are not yet there. So we're taking it from weekend to weekend."

Unlike Verstappen and Bottas, Hamilton has not suffered power unit damage in an accident, so he has more leeway.

However, Wolff acknowledged that it will be tricky to get the timing of any penalty right.

"Exactly. And there can be a weekend where you are totally off, or you're caught in an accident, and you're starting at the back anyway. So I think taking a power unit prematurely is not something that we would want to do."

Honda's latest power unit package includes a new spec energy store, an example of which Verstappen already took without penalty at Spa.

Ferrari also has an upgraded power unit at Sochi, which has been given to Leclerc. Like Verstappen, the Monegasque driver will be at the back of the grid.

Wolff said that Mercedes made its permitted upgrades at the start of the season, and thus there will be no performance gain for Hamilton, other than that associated with mileage.

"The truth is we don't know what the others do. It's just noise. For us, it's important to choose the right time for upgrades. And we have done that at the beginning of the year.

"We're happy with how we've done it, and it's a close fight, you can see that everybody's suffering from some kind of reliability issues, or bringing developments late."

shares
comments

Related video

Hamilton: Mercedes must capitalise on Verstappen's Russia F1 penalty

Previous article

Hamilton: Mercedes must capitalise on Verstappen's Russia F1 penalty

Next article

Gasly surprised by "fragile" front wing break in F1 Russian GP FP2

Gasly surprised by "fragile" front wing break in F1 Russian GP FP2
Load comments
Verstappen exclusive: How Red Bull’s ace has become F1 champion material Plus

Verstappen exclusive: How Red Bull’s ace has become F1 champion material

As Red Bull and Honda go all-out for victory in the Japanese engine manufacturer’s last season of its latest Formula 1 dalliance, Max Verstappen finds himself thrust into a compelling title fight with Lewis Hamilton. He told OLEG KARPOV about his evolution into a world championship contender and why Red Bull's no compromise ethos suits him down to the ground

How Mercedes went from Austin practice domination to "very tight at the front" with Red Bull Plus

How Mercedes went from Austin practice domination to "very tight at the front" with Red Bull

Mercedes has been on a roll of late in the ultra-tight fight to win the 2021 Formula 1 world championship. It started off well in practice at Austin for this weekend’s US Grand Prix, but Red Bull got closer as Friday unfolded and even seemed to find an edge in one critical area of what seems set to be another close contest

The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen Plus

The six critical factors that could hand F1 2021 glory to Hamilton or Verstappen

The 2021 Formula 1 title battle is finely poised with six races remaining, as just six points separate championship leader Max Verstappen from seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton. In such a closely-fought season, the outcome could hinge on several small factors playing the way of Red Bull or Mercedes

Formula 1
Oct 22, 2021
Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed? Plus

Can Whitmarsh appointment help Aston succeed where its F1 rivals failed?

Aston Martin owner Lawrence Stroll is determined to make the group a billion-dollar business. MARK GALLAGHER analyses his latest play – bringing former McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh into the fold

Formula 1
Oct 22, 2021
Remembering Switzerland’s first F1 winner Plus

Remembering Switzerland’s first F1 winner

Stepping up to F1 in 1962, Jo Siffert shone with Rob Walker Racing Team and BRM before his career was abruptly ended in a fatal crash at Brands Hatch in 1971. On the 50th anniversary of his death, Autosport recalls the career of an F1 and sportscar ace gone before his time

Formula 1
Oct 21, 2021
What Verstappen is risking with his current stance on 2021 F1 world title defeat Plus

What Verstappen is risking with his current stance on 2021 F1 world title defeat

OPINION: Max Verstappen is back in the lead of the 2021 Formula 1 drivers’ championship, with the season’s final flyaway events set to get underway in the USA this weekend. But a defensive stance he’s recently adopted could have a lasting impact for the Red Bull driver when it comes to his chances of defeating Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes

Formula 1
Oct 21, 2021
The hidden Ferrari struggle that Sainz’s recent charge put to rest Plus

The hidden Ferrari struggle that Sainz’s recent charge put to rest

Despite appearing to adjust to life as a Ferrari driver with relative ease, it was far from straightforward under the surface for Carlos Sainz Jr. But, having made breakthroughs in rather different routes at the Russian and Turkish races, he’s now targeting even greater feats for the rest of the Formula 1 season

Formula 1
Oct 20, 2021
The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team Plus

The final throes of Brazil's fleetingly successful F1 team

Emerson Fittipaldi is better remembered for his Formula 1 world championships and Indianapolis 500 successes than for the spell running his eponymous F1 team. Despite a hugely talented roll call of staff, it was a period of internal strife, limited funding and few results - as remembered by Autosport's technical consultant

Formula 1
Oct 18, 2021