It was announced during free practice two of the 2021 Russian Grand Prix that Red Bull’s title challenger, Max Verstappen, has taken a new power unit ahead of Sunday’s race.
As a result, the Dutchman will start Sunday’s race at the back of the grid, regardless how he qualifies in tomorrow’s qualifying session, if it remains to go ahead due to uncertain weather conditions.
Red Bull’s decision to give Verstappen a new engine, and the resulting penalty, will nullify the Dutch drivers three-place grid penalty that he recieved for causing a collision with his title-rival, Lewis Hamilton in the Italian Grand Prix.
But this opens up the question: should Hamilton opt for a new power unit himself?
Why Max Verstappen has been given an engine penalty?
Over the course of the 2021 season the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile) and Formula One have set a strict set of regulations in regards to the allocation of power unit components available for all teams and drivers.
The FIA, under Article 23.2 of the Formula One sporting regulations, states:
“Each driver may use no more than 3 engines (ICE), 3 motor generator units-heat (MGU-H), 3 turbochargers (TC), 2 energy stores (ES), 2 control electronics (CE), 3 motor generator units-kinetic (MGU-K) and eight (8) of each of the four (4) elements constituting a set of Engine exhaust systems during a Championship.”
Under document 14, of the 2021 Russian Grand Prix, Verstappen has taken a fourth; turbo charger, internal combustion unit (ICE), MGU-H (Motor Generator Unit – Heat) and a MGU-K (Motor Generator Unit – Kinetic). While he has also taken a third energy store and a control electronics component.
Essentially, the Dutch driver is running an entirely new engine.
Why Verstappen and Red Bull opted for the engine penalty?
Likely spurred on by the three-place grid penalty he was issued for causing a collision in the Italian Grand Prix, when the Dutch Red Bull ended up climbing over Hamilton’s W12 on lap 26.
Pundits, former F1 drivers, broadcasters and motorsport journalists have suggested that it was highly likely that the Dutchman would have to take a fourth power unit, and the resulting penalty, at some point in the second half of the season.
When the paddock arrived in Russia, Red Bull knew they were up against it as Mercedes have been unbeaten at the Sochi Autodrom since it’s introduction during the 2014 season.
But taking the engine penalty makes sense to nullify Verstappen’s penalty as there are plenty of opportunities to overtake in the 3.64-mile circuit. In addition, the appearance of the safety car is high as it has appeared in six of the seven races Russia so far.
Should Hamilton reap the benefits or take the risk?
Ahead of Sunday’s action, Hamilton now has a dilema to face: should he take an engine penalty himself or reap the benefits of his title-rival starting at the back?
According to the Independent, Mercedes team principle and CEO, Toto Wolff, still believes his leading driver could still avoid taking an engine penalty before the season is over.
If Hamilton and Mercedes decide not to take the engine penalty, the seven-time world champion will be able to reap the rewards of potentially taking a bigger points haul than his championship-rival.
However, if the Silver Arrows and the defending champion decide to put in a new power unit, it will mean Red Bull’s advantage of using an entirely new power unit will be minimised and put them relatively level in performance. In addition, it could see them both make it to the final chequered flag in Abu Dhabi without anymore engine penalties.
If Hamilton can make it to the chequered flag in Abu Dhabi, in competitive fashion, for the final race of the season then the team should opt to go without another power unit.
If the two title-rivals start on the opposite ends of the grid, Verstappen at the back and Hamilton on the front row, it could be vital for their championship chances come December.
Bottas still seems willing to remain a teamplayer despite being completely out of contention for the 2021 crown, as a result it could allow Hamilton to walk away with the full set of points available – while Verstappen takes a hit in the standings.
With upcoming tracks that are more suited to Red Bull – such as Brazil (if it remains) – we could see Mercedes pulling the same move as the Milton Keynes outfit this weekend.