Red Bull and their engine supplier Honda are considering introducing a fifth internal combustion engine for Max Verstappen who is battling Lewis Hamilton for the championship, but will only decide on that when they arrive in Saudi Arabia.
After Hamilton took the fifth engine in Brazil and superiorly won through from the back of the grid, he secured an advantage until the end of the season as he has a much fresher engine than Verstappen in the remaining two races.
This advantage is even more pronounced because Hamilton did not use the engine from Brazil in Qatar, where engine power is not so important, and given the superiority that Red Bull and Mercedes have over other teams, especially in the last third of the season, a five place grid penalty for the fifth engine is not such a big hurdle given the benefits that a fresh engine brings.
This was also shown in Qatar, where Verstappen was supposed to start second, but received five places grid penalty for disrespecting the yellow flags, started seventh and already surged to second place in the lap five.
Verstappen is currently using the fourth engine they have introduced in Russia, which has been running for six weekends, and Hamilton will have the engine for the last two races of the season which has done only one but fierce weekend in Brazil (two free practice sessions, qualifying, sprint race and race, a total of 174 laps or 749,766 km).
Since Verstappen also had an older engine at his disposal during the use of the fourth engine, which he used in free practice sessions on Friday, that engine did not cover as many kilometers as was the case with the first engine with which he had to do all sessions.
Honda was ready to change Verstappen’s engine back in Qatar, writes Italian edition of Motorsport, but Red Bull refused it because they hoped that Verstappen could do something from second place in the fight for victory while after the penalty, which arrived just few hours before the race, it was too late for the engine change.
The Japanese manufacturer is arriving in Saudi Arabia ready for a possible engine change that would give Verstappen five place grid penalty, but also the possibility of using the engine much more aggressively on the last two weekends, including qualifying and the race.
This is especially important since the abolition of different qualifying and race engine maps ahead of the 2020 Italian GP – drivers and teams must decide which engine map to use before qualifying and use the same map in the race, depending on mileage and current engine condition. The exception is driving behind a safety car in which everyone is allowed to use a special engine map that is useless in practical racing.
Earlier in the qualifying they would always use the strongest engine maps, just like at the start of the race and in critical laps before or after tyre changes, and then in other laps of the race they would use more conservative settings, depending on engine condition.
Today, lower engine mileage brings an advantage in both qualifying and in the race because it is possible to use a more aggressive map which then brings an advantage on Saturday and Sunday.
Hamilton needs two wins in the last two races to win the title even if Verstappen finishes second in both races, and Verstappen needs one win and one second place to secure the title.
So it makes sense for Red Bull to focus on the last race in Abu Dhabi with a fresh engine even if it means sacrificing a race in Saudi Arabia that Verstappen should be able to finish in second place even with a five-place grid penalty.
BATTLE FOR THE CHAMPIONSIP
2021 SAUDI ARABIAN GP TIMETABLE
|1st free practice||Fri 16:30|
|2nd free practice||Fri 20:00|
|3nd free practice||Sat 17:00|