Red Bull's championship leader Max Verstappen and Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc will start the Russian Grand Prix from the back of the grid for taking a raft of new power unit components at Sochi.
Despite the planned 22-race calendar for 2021, drivers have a very limited number of engine components for the entire season. Should a driver exceed the limits, grid penalties will apply with the allocation being determined as follows: engines (ICE) (three per season), motor generator units-heat (MGU-H) (three), turbochargers (TC) (three), energy stores (ES) (two), control electronics (CE) (two), and motor generator units-kinetic (MGU-K) (three).
Championship leader Max Verstappen lost his second engine after having been taken out by Lewis Hamilton in the British Grand Prix. Red Bull’s engine partner Honda performed some repair job on the power unit in question ahead of the Hungarian Grand Prix and was confident that it could be used again.
The Dutchman completed the practice sessions and qualifying at the Hungaroring only to find out ahead of the race that there was a crack in the transition from the engine to the gearbox.
Honda decided to install a fresh engine into Verstappen’s RB16B for the race in Hungary. Further checks at Honda’s Sakura-based factory showed that the cracked power unit could not be used again, not even in practice sessions. With still several races to run, the Dutchman was put on the verge of his allocation of power unit.
Red Bull decided not to take risks with a possible engine failure with Verstappen having now taken a new internal Honda internal combustion engine, new turbo, MGU-H, MGU-K, energy store, control electronics, and exhaust this weekend. The Dutchman, who already had a three-place grid penalty for Russia, will start the Sochi race from the back of the grid.
„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,” the Belgian-Dutch driver commented.
Ferrari driver Chales Leclerc found himself in a similar situation to Verstappen after he also lost his second engine due to an overambitious move from Lance Stroll, who crashed into the back of his Ferrari at the start of the Hungarian Grand Prix. The Monegasque was forced to move onto his third and last engine at Spa which hosted the first race after the summer break.
With Leclerc also being on the verge of his allocation, Ferrari decided to install a fresh internal combustion engine, new turbo, MGU-H, MGU-K, energy store, control electronics, and exhaust this weekend.
The Italian manufacturer used the misfortune for a strategical move, installing an upgraded hybrid system into Leclerc’s SF21. Engine manufacturers are restricted to just one upgrade of each component per year, as per the regulations. Ferrari was allowed to introduce an upgrade at Sochi after having been running a 2020-spec hybrid system throughout the first part of the season.
On the eve of the Russian Grand Prix, Ferrari communicated that it used the Monegasque’s misfortune triggered by Stroll to gain experience for the 2022 power unit.
“A great deal of effort has gone into this, both technically and logistically, and so as to be able to use it as soon as possible, its introduction will be staggered between the drivers. Charles will be the first to have the new hybrid system. This decision is a precautionary measure relating to the potential risk of using the battery pack damaged in his Hungarian GP accident.
“In Sochi, Leclerc will have a brand new power unit and will therefore start from the back of the grid. As to when the updated hybrid system is fitted to Carlos’ car, that will be decided following an evaluation of the right compromise between competitiveness and the impact of the penalty,” read Ferrari’s statement.
After running with the upgraded power unit on the opening day for the Russian Grand Prix, Leclerc was delighted with the step Ferrari achieved with its latest development: “I feel that it is a little bit better, which is great. And obviously the data confirms it, so yes, it’s great to feel it and to see it.”
As far as the gearboxes are concerened, three drivers will start Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix with a fresh unit. After Verstappen and Hamilton were involved in a crash during the Italian Grand Prix, both were forced to retire from the race. As they did not finish the race in Monza, the Sporting Regulations allowed them to receive a fresh gearbox for this race. Both of them can use their ’Monza’ gearbox as a spare one in the remaining practice sessions.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly used his previous gearbox for six consecutive events, which allowed him to use a fresh gearbox in Russia. The Frenchman, who currently sits in ninth place in the Drivers’ Standings, retired with a technical problem in Monza, so he could also have received a fresh gearbox due to his retirement.