Max Verstappen suffers brutal new blow ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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·Sports Editor
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Max Verstappen, pictured here in practice for the Russian Grand Prix.
Max Verstappen will start the Russian Grand Prix in last place. Image: Getty

Max Verstappen will start Sunday's Russian Grand Prix from last place after a power unit change, handing a huge boost to F1 championship rival Lewis Hamilton.

Valtteri Bottas spearheaded a dominant first day of practice for Mercedes in Sochi, ending Friday 0.044 seconds clear of his British teammate Hamilton with a benchmark time of one minute 33.593 seconds.

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Bottas had already gone fastest ahead of the champion in the first hour of racing.

Hamilton trails Verstappen by just five points in the standings heading into the Russian Grand Prix.

However his chances of securing a landmark 100th race win and the championship lead were boosted when Red Bull announced Verstappen's power unit change, dropping him to last on the starting grid.

Hamilton's hopes had already looked good with the Dutchman on a three-place grid penalty for a crash that saw both exit the last race in Monza.

But after Verstappen's grid drop, Hamilton's prospects look even better.

"It's definitely a shame for him but we've got to try and capitalise on that," said the seven-times champion, who last won at his home British Grand Prix in July and has taken four wins to Verstappen's seven this year.

"A one-two would be spectacular for us as a team."

Bottas, gunning for his first victory of the year, had also said he would be prepared to "take one for the team" and let Hamilton win if needed.

Mercedes, who are 18 points clear of Red Bull in the constructors' championship, have won every race at Sochi since the 2014 Winter Olympic venue joined the calendar that year.

Lewis Hamilton, pictured here in action during practice for the Russian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton in action during practice for the Russian Grand Prix. (Photo by Sergei Fadeichev\TASS via Getty Images)

Max Verstappen hoping to limit the overall damage

Verstappen, who fought his way up to fifth in the 2018 Russian Grand Prix after being dropped to 19th by engine and gearbox-related penalties, said he will try to limit the damage to his overall lead.

"We just try to make the best possible race car for this weekend, of course, once we decided to take that engine," said the 23-year-old. 

"So I hope it's going to work out."

After his shock victory at the Italian Grand Prix, it proved an anti-climactic day for Daniel Ricciardo in Sochi.

The Australian driver couldn't get much of a tune from his McLaren as he finished 14th fastest in the opening session and 17th in the afternoon.

His teammate Lando Norris ended fourth fastest in the second session.

One man happy to be back on the track despite only posting the 12th fastest time in second practice was Kimi Raikkonen.

The Alfa Romeo driver missed the last two races following a positive Covid-19 test.

Teams rushed to pack as much racing as they could into Friday's two hour-long sessions, with heavy rain predicted for Saturday when qualifying is scheduled, raising fears of a washout.

With the washed-out Belgian Grand Prix still fresh in the mind, organisers have taken steps to ensure lightning doesn't strike twice by arranging for qualifying to be staged on Sunday morning should it be impossible to go ahead in its traditional Saturday slot.

with agencies

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