Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko has thrown a spanner into the works by suggesting Max Verstappen could still have an engine penalty looming before the season ends, putting his title hopes at risk.
After an epic season-long battle, the Dutchman currently holds an eight-point lead over Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton with just Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi left to race.
Verstappen has had his lead cut over the past few races as Hamilton and Mercedes dominated in Brazil and Qatar with back-to-back wins.
Yet while most have been questioning the lifespan of Hamilton’s engine thanks to Mercedes’ season-long woes, there are now suggestions Verstappen could be hit with a five-place grid penalty.
Hamilton is now on his fifth ICE [internal combustion engine], two more than the allocated three that can be used across a season, with his team-mate Valtteri Bottas racking up six raising concerns for Mercedes’ reliability.
But Marko has firmly placed the concerns back on Red Bull after seemingly failing to rule out a fourth engine for Verstappen.
“An engine change is not planned in Saudi Arabia at the moment,” the Austrian told F1-Insider.com, “if it does, it will come in Abu Dhabi.”
But Red Bull team principal Christian Horner felt there would be no more issues for Verstappen, ruling out any possibility the championship leader would be hit with a penalty.
“All things being normal, we expect to get to the end of the year with the combustion engines that we have,” Horner told Sky Sports F1, speaking ahead of the Sao Paulo Grand Prix.
“The three are still all in use from the beginning of the year. We obviously lost one following the crash at Silverstone but with the penalty that we took in Sochi, that got us back into good shape.
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Team principal Toto Wolff said: “In Saudi, it should be a good track for us, but we know this year when we think it is a good one, it can turn the other way around.
“But it is long straights, and we will get our spicy equipment out, the engine, for Saudi Arabia.”
Verstappen is the only driver who can wrap up the title in Saudi, currently leading the way by eight points over Hamilton as their intense battle continues on December 5.
Published at Wed, 01 Dec 2021 14:18:00 +0000