Lewis Hamilton uncertain over engine penalty that would hand Max Verstappen advantage

Lewis Hamilton has hinted Mercedes could decide to change his engine ahead of the Turkish Grand Prix, which would see the seven-time world champion start from the back of the grid.

Boss Toto Wolff raised concerns after the Russian Grand Prix regarding Hamilton’s engine, with just seven races remaining of the season, adding they were looking at the decision on a “race by race” basis.

Drivers are only allowed three allocated engines each season, and the choice to take a fourth engine would incur a hefty penalty.

Yet questions were raised after Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas took back-to-back grid penalties in Italy and in Russia, as Mercedes decided to take a fourth and a fifth power unit for the Finn.

However, when asked if he may have to take a fresh engine in Turkey, the seven-time world champion remained on the fence.

He said: “At the moment I still have number two and three, so don’t envision us having to take one at the moment. But that could change who knows.”

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Hamilton’s main title rival Max Verstappen opted to take a new engine in Russia, after already incurring a three-place grid drop for causing a collision with the Mercedes driver in Monza.

Red Bull were already braced to take a new engine after Verstappen lost one during a heavy crash at the British Grand Prix.

The gamble worked out for the Milton Keynes-based team, as Verstappen finished second due to a chaotic end to the race in Sochi, with rain falling heavily with a few laps remaining.

Teams were forced to change their slick tyres to intermediates, with Red Bull timing their pit stop perfectly to allow Verstappen to clinch a podium finish.

Yet, with talk of engine changes looming for the championship leader, Red Bull boss Christian Horner was confident that Hamilton will still have to make a change this season.

“We’re not privy to that kind of information,” said Horner speaking after the race in Russia.

“But you’d assume that [with] the amount of Mercedes engines that are being changed in their sister cars and customer teams, you’d expect potentially for there to be a penalty, but obviously we can’t rely on it.”

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Mercedes called the change for Bottas at Sochi a ‘tactical opportunity’ to try and hold off Verstappen, who had started at the back of the grid.

The plan didn’t work out for Mercedes as Verstappen breezed past Bottas during the race, as Hamilton pulled out an impressive win.

Red Bull adviser Helmut Marko told Sky: “I hope that our information is correct. According to that, Lewis will have to change again. Going from last place on the grid to the podium doesn’t happen that quickly.

“The upcoming tracks are to our advantage, especially because of the altitude in Brazil or Mexico. We need to win again now, but feel strong enough and attack again.”

With questions surrounding why they opted for a fifth power unit for Bottas, Wolff replied: “I think we haven’t only made the cautionary engine change because we felt we wanted to stockpile, but also because we want to understand the engine’s performance – and that has given us some question marks.”

When pushed on what the question marks were, Wolff, refusing to respond directly, said: “We’re just taking it one race weekend at a time – and [then we’ll] reassess the performance of the power units and then take decisions.

“At the moment we are reassessing the performance of the power units because we have question marks, and therefore haven’t decided which engines would go back into the pool.”

Hamilton leads the way by two points heading to the Turkish Grand Prix as Verstappen looks to take back the lead of the championship.

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