Championship leader Max Verstappen will start the Russian Grand Prix from the back of the grid, after Red Bull Racing decide to fit fourth power unit for the grand prix at the Sochi Autodrom.
Despite the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team dominating the opening day in Sochi, all eyes were on Verstappen as the news broke that the team will make the expected engine change, resulting in an engine penalty meaning a back of the grid start for Sunday’s race.
With this in mind, Verstappen’s approach to the opening two Free Practice Sessions was different compared to a normal weekend. The Dutchman was third after the morning session but ended the day sixth after Free Practice Two. Verstappen focused solely on set-up and having the best possible race car for Sunday, with a lot of overtaking ahead of Verstappen come race day.
Verstappen believes that taking the penalty in Russia is the right decision, and that hopefully they can make something work on Sunday.
“We thought it would be best to take the engine penalty here in Russia, we took everything into account before making the decision and we of course considered the weather for tomorrow. We had to take the penalty at some point so if we didn’t take it here, we would have taken it somewhere else.
“As for the set up, we are trying to make the best possible race car for this weekend despite starting from the back of the grid. I hope it’s going to work out and we will try to make the best of it during the race on Sunday, for now let’s wait and see what the weather will be like tomorrow.”
“There is potential in the car” – Sergio Pérez
Sergio Pérez had a fairly uneventful opening day in Russia compared to his team-mate, the Mexican ended the day in eleventh place, two positions lower than the ninth spot he occupied in the morning session.
With Verstappen starting from the back there will be a lot of pressure on Pérez to score big points this weekend, especially with the Sochi Autodrom being a superior circuit for Mercedes.
The Mexican believes he has gained some good information from the opening day, and that with a few changes they should be closer to the Mercedes.
“I think we have some good information going into qualifying tomorrow, when there won’t be much running due to the rain, so today was probably the last chance we have to test the dry conditions before qualifying. I think there is potential in the car for this weekend, we just have to make sure we get it right. I think my first and second sector looked good but there are some areas to improve in the third sector.
“There are some set-up changes we might need to make to the car to suit the weather conditions come qualifying but there are still a lot of interesting things to be analysed later on this evening. With Max starting from the back, it is going to be a bit of a challenge as a Team and obviously Mercedes are very strong around here but hopefully we are able to put some pressure on them and qualify very close to them, that would be ideal.”