Max Verstappen to start Russian GP from the back for taking new engine
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Formula One championship leader Max Verstappen will start the Russian Grand Prix from the back of the grid after his Red Bull team elected to fit a new power unit to the Dutchman's car.
The 23-year-old, who leads Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton by five points in the overall standings, was already carrying a three-place grid penalty after a collision with the Briton in the Italian Grand Prix that put both drivers out of the race.
As a result, Red Bull decided to change the power unit in Verstappen's car and take the associated penalties this weekend.
Drivers are allowed no more than three power units per season and exceeding that allocation triggers grid penalties.
"If we wouldn’t have taken it here we would have taken it somewhere else," Verstappen told F1TV, after ending Friday's second practice session sixth quickest.
"We think now we’ll decide to do it here and we’ll try to make the best of it in the race."
Mercedes have won every race at the 5.8-km long Sochi track since it joined the calendar in 2014 and were dominant again on Friday.
Sochi-specialist Valtteri Bottas, who has said he is ready to "take one for the team" and let Hamilton win, led the seven-time champion in both practice sessions.
Yet heavy rain is predicted for Saturday's qualifying, which could lead to a mixed up grid.
Overtaking is also relatively easy at the circuit, which winds its way through the 2014 Olympic Park, as Verstappen knows having finished the 2018 race fifth despite starting 19th.
"Of course, in 2018, the gaps to the midfield were a bit bigger,” said Verstappen, who will be joined on the back row of the grid by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, who is also running a fresh engine.
“Naturally, I think it will be a bit more difficult to come through but we had to take the penalty anyway."
Hamilton, gunning for an elusive 100th win, said Mercedes would have to make the most of Verstappen's penalty.
"It's definitely a shame for him but we've got to try and capitalise on that," said the 36-year-old.
"A one-two would be spectacular for us as a team."