MAX VERSTAPPEN is set to take a grid penalty which could hand Charles Leclerc a glimmer of hope in the battle for the drivers’ title.
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Max Verstappen is set to take a grid penalty before the end of the season to switch for a fresh engine, Red Bull’s chief advisor Helmut Marko has confirmed. The move will be seen as a boost for Charles Leclerc, whose hopes of fighting for the title had looked slim after a series of crucial DNFs this season.
The Red Bull star, who currently leads the drivers’ standings by 63 points over Leclerc, has been in sensational form this season, winning eight out of 12 races. But the Dutchman has been the main beneficiary of Leclerc’s misfortune on the track, with the Monegasque failing to finish when leading a race three times this season.
Issues with the Ferrari power unit have already cost both Scuderia drivers this season, but Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are likely to take grid penalties later on as they will have gone beyond the three engines allowed.
That would have made Ferrari’s already steep task of catching Red Bull even more challenging, given the Austrian manufacturer’s sizeable advantage in both championships.
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Max Verstappen: The Red Bull star’s penalty could provide a boost to Charles Leclerc (Image: Getty Images/Express Sport)
But Marko has revealed Red Bull have planned to make the change for both Verstappen and team-mate Sergio Perez at a track where they accept their car is less competitive, suggesting Monza — the iconic home of Ferrari — could be the ideal circuit to enforce their changes.
“That will also happen with us and we just have to choose a track where you can overtake relatively well,” Marko said, when asked about Ferrari’s engine issues and forthcoming penalties.
“If you look at the next races, then you will definitely come to a track that we have chosen.” Marko then listed the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps or Italian Grand Prix as a potential timeline for their engine parts to be changed.
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Helmut Marko: The Red Bull chief has spoken about Red Bull’s penalty plans (Image: NurPhoto)
Verstappen’s last grid penalty came in Qatar last season after he was penalised for failing to slow down for double-waved yellow flags in qualifying. But despite starting seventh on the grid, the Dutchman recovered to finish second — suggesting Red Bull may not be hindered too badly with the fastest car on the grid at Monza or Spa.
However, Red Bull will be wary of the threat posed by Leclerc and Carlos Sainz after Ferrari showed great race pace at the French Grand Prix last weekend, before Leclerc’s error sent him into the barrier. Mercedes are also making small improvements, with Lewis Hamilton finishing second in that race — his best performance of the season.
And it is no surprise that Marko also confirmed Red Bull will be introducing another upgrade after the summer break as they aim to lock down both drivers’ and constructors’ championships as early as possible.
“We are constantly developing,” Marko added. “That’s the DNA of Red Bull Racing. It won’t be as serious anymore, but there will be updates well into the second half of the season. We’ll have to wait and see the details.”