Max Verstappen, the current Formula One World Champion, will start from the back of the grid in the Russian Grand Prix as Red Bull tests a new engine.
The Dutchman arrived in Sochi with a three-grid penalty after colliding with title rival Lewis Hamilton at the Italian Grand Prix, but his switch to a new internal Honda combustion engine, as well as a variety of new power components, will leave him chasing from the back on Sunday.
Charles Leclerc of Ferrari will start from the back of the grid after acquiring new power units ahead of this weekend’s race.
Today, Verstappen and the other drivers warmed up on the Sochi Autodrom, with Valtteri Bottas leading both practices.
Verstappen dismissed Hamilton’s suggestion that he was feeling the pressure of a title fight the day before.
Following their dramatic collision in Italy last time out, the pair arrived in Russia separated by just five points, with Verstappen maintaining a slim lead over the seven-time World Champion.
When Hamilton arrived in Sochi, he was asked if he thought Verstappen was feeling the heat of their title rivalry, which had been simmering long before the Monza crash.
“Obviously, he won’t admit it and I’m not going to make an assumption,” Hamilton replied. “But I’m just saying I remember what it was like when I had my first one and it definitely mounted up.”
“It was difficult, it was intense, I was going through a lot of different emotions, I didn’t always handle it the best and that’s to be expected. There’s a lot of pressure, you’re working in a big team, there’s a lot of self-expectation and pressure because the desire to win is huge,” Hamilton added.
Tensions between the two title contenders have been simmering all season, with hostilities spilling over to the respective team principals at Red Bull and Mercedes.
Following a collision between the drivers on lap one of the British Grand Prix in July, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner claimed Hamilton was “completely out of order,” while Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff responded that Red Bull’s remarks on Hamilton were “below the belt.”
The fact that Hamilton went on to win at Silverstone after Verstappen retired only added fuel to the fire, with Verstappen tweeting his displeasure with Hamilton’s “disrespectful and unsportsmanlike” celebrations.
The dramatic crash at Monza earlier this month, in which Verstappen’s car landed on top of Hamilton’s after a wheel-to-wheel collision, raised tensions to new heights, both figuratively and literally.
Hamilton, who said after the race that he felt “fortunate to be alive,” told his team over the radio that Verstappen had forced him wide, with Hamilton saying, “That’s what you get when you don’t leave the space.”