McLaren will run with Mercedes engines from 2021 until at least 2024. In an announcement mid-week, McLaren’s Racing CEO Zak Brown said: “Mercedes is the benchmark, both as a team and a power unit, so it is natural we would seek to secure a relationship with the company for the next phase of our journey.” It’s part of the team’s longer term goal to be more competitive in F1.
With five rounds to come after this weekend’s race at Sochi, teams, drivers, and engine makers will soon be able to draw a sigh of relief as the season’s end means no more new engines and components. Until Melbourne, at least.
For example, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will have a five-place grid penalty, as will Alexander Albon and Pierre Gasly. Engine supplier Honda has confirmed Verstappen, Albon, and Gasly are having new engines fitted and Daniil Kvyat a major change of engine parts. The Russian born Kvyat will start his home Russian Formula One Grand Prix from the back of the field on Sunday as a result. The upgrades for this weekend ensures all four will have fresher Honda-made engines for the Japanese F1 GP on October 13.
Of the five grid place penalty, applied irrespective of Verstappen’s qualifying place this weekend and presuming he does finish qualifying in 15th and above, the 22 year old has said: “I don’t think it’s going to hurt us a lot around here (at Sochi). It’s not any more back of the grid, it’s only five places. That’s why I think we went for it. Last year we started from the back and overtaking didn’t seem like a big problem around here.”
What will hurt other teams is the fourth pole in a row for Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc. The Monaco born tyro equals a record set by Michael Schumacher, also in a Ferrari at the time, in his 2000 and 2001 seasons. These occurred when Leclerc was just three years of age. His time of 1:31.628 was the only run, according to the official timesheets, to get below 1:32. Lewis Hamilton will start alongside Leclerc, with a time of 1:32.030, nearly a full second quicker than his Q2 time.
Sebastian Vettel managed to hold out Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in qualifying, with Verstappen setting the pace in practice. Valtteri Bottas qualified 5th and was a full second behind Leclerc. Carlos Sainz improved to take 6th, ahead of Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg by just 6/100ths of a second in Q3. P8 was McLaren’s Lando Norris, just nudging Romain Grosjean and Daniel Ricciardo.
Pierre Gasly was edged by the Australian by a tenth in Q2 and will start in P11 with his time 8/1000ths ahead of Sergio Perez. The rest of the qualifying field, leaving out grid spot penalties, has Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen, Lance Stroll, a disappointing Kimi Raikkonen, George Russell, Robert Kubica, and Alexander Albon who crashed late in Q1.
Although Leclerc has pole, he’s also somewhat dubious about the position: “It felt amazing, it definitely feels great to back on pole but I don’t know if it’s the best track to start on pole. The straight is very long after the start so tomorrow the start will be very important as always but here probably even more because of the straight length.” Hamilton feels that this could be what he needs to jump Leclerc from the start: “It’s a long run up to Turn 1 so it’s not always the best for starts on the harder tyres but I’m going to try to tow the life out of Charles if I get the chance. But it’s going to be hard because they get good starts as well.”
For Red Bull, things changed from practice to qualifying. “I always knew qualifying would be tricky on such a power sensitive circuit but the lap was good and there wasn’t much more in it.” said Verstappen. “The wind picked up and it seemed to hurt us in the last sector which is normally our strongest point so I couldn’t really use the full potential of the car.” Albon echoed that, with: “There’s a tailwind in that corner and it just caught me out. When these cars go, they go quick. It was a silly mistake – that’s pretty much it and it’s just frustrating.”
The race gets underway at 1410 local on Sunday, September 29.