Martin Brundle believes that the best way for Lewis Hamilton to beat Max Verstappen to the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship could be for the Briton to take another five-place grid penalty at this Sunday’s Qatar Grand Prix.
The seven-time world champion did exactly that at the Brazilian Grand Prix last time out, storming through from tenth on the grid to pass Verstappen out front and ultimately take one of the finest victories of his stellar career.
Mercedes had opted to install a brand new internal combustion engine into Hamilton’s power unit for the Interlagos race, willingly incurring the starting penalty after spotting what team principal Toto Wolff referred to as “a degradation on the engine.” The new engine no doubt helped Hamilton’s overtaking, as he routinely flew past his rivals on his charge through the field with straight-line speed which just could not be matched by any other car on circuit.
The Losail circuit in Qatar is the location for the first of the final three races which will see out one of the most thrilling seasons in F1’s modern history, and is making its debut on the calendar after the Gulf nation signed a 10-year agreement with the sport’s owners Liberty Media earlier this year. The track has primarily been used for MotoGP bike races since its opening in 2004, and is made up of a series of fairly long straight without many slow speed corners.
That focus on straight-line speed could play into Mercedes’ hands, and veteran F1 commentator Brundle believes another fresh engine could be worth the pain of a penalty for Hamilton.
“Next up is a track in Qatar, which Valentino Rossi will know infinitely better than any F1 driver, and it may well suit his bike more than our F1 cars,” Brundle wrote in his Sky Sports F1 column. “With Verstappen’s championship lead down to 14 points, after Checo Perez saved a point grabbing fastest lap off Lewis on the final tour, the championship will run until at least Saudi Arabia now.
“This story has plenty more to run, and surely on that form, it’s worth Merc considering a new internal combustion engine for the final big showdown. A five-place grid drop could be well worth it, given Lewis passed all the other 19 cars on the grid, 16 of them at least twice.”
Red Bull appear increasingly concerned about the pace improvement Mercedes seems to have found on the straights, with team boss Christian Horner telling Sky Germany the Mercedes looks "very, very impressive" and that his team simply "can't race against that." Advisor Helmut Marko, meanwhile, added: “It looked like the others had one gear less than Hamilton. Mercedes has succeeded in creating a masterpiece with this rocket for the decisive phase.”
Verstappen currently leads the championship by 14 points with three races remaining, but the circuits in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could well all favour the Mercedes car more than the Red Bull.
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