Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will head to Sochi with a three-place grid drop hanging over his head in the Russian Grand Prix, following his clash with Lewis Hamilton at Monza. But Team Principal Christian Horner felt the penalty wouldn’t be “such a handicap” around the Russian circuit.
Verstappen was found by the stewards to have been “predominantly to blame” after his crash with title rival Hamilton in the Italian Grand Prix, which saw the pair make contact on Lap 26 of 53, with Verstappen launched over Hamilton’s Mercedes before ending up on his rival’s car’s nose section.
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And with the stewards handing Verstappen a three-place grid drop for Sochi and two penalty points on his licence, Horner didn’t appear too concerned for his lead driver’s hopes in the upcoming Russian Grand Prix, which he predicted would be “a challenge” for Red Bull with or without a penalty.
“It has been a Mercedes stronghold,” said Horner of the Russian track where Mercedes have won every race since 2014. “For me, Monza and Sochi, I’ve them marked down mentally as Mercedes circuits so it will be a challenge.
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“We have the grid penalty to take for Max too, but in Sochi it’s not such a handicap because of the strength of the tow down to Turn 1,” Horner added. “I was looking through the results at the Russian Grand Prix and back in 2018, Max went from last to first before needing to make his pit stop. We were second there last year but it’s a circuit we have never won at… I’m looking forward to it and seeing how we get on.”
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Regarding the Monza crash that led to the penalty, meanwhile, Horner said that Red Bull accepted the stewards’ decision, while doubling down on his belief that both Verstappen and Hamilton held responsibility in the accident.
“Both drivers knew they needed to be ahead because of the difficulty to overtake,” said Horner, writing in his column on Red Bull’s website. “Max was keen to seize the momentum and Lewis was eager to retain track position.
“It was an awkward shunt, but… I still share the same belief today – both played a part in it and it is difficult to apportion blame to one side more than the other,” he added.
“If the FIA wanted to make a statement, they could’ve imposed the same penalty on both drivers but the fault was deemed to be more on Max’s side and, because he didn’t finish the race, the only option was to give him a grid penalty, which we accept.”
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With neither Verstappen nor Hamilton scoring in the Italian Grand Prix, Verstappen’s two points for finishing second in the Monza Sprint moved him five points clear of Hamilton in the drivers’ standings.