Honda F1 boss Masashi Yamamoto has admitted he played a huge role in deciding when Max Verstappen would take his new engine, adding he even convinced chief Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko to take it in Sochi.
There had been question marks surrounding when Verstappen would have to take a new power unit after crashing heavily at the British Grand Prix.
Verstappen already had a three-place grid penalty for causing a collision at the Italian Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton heading into the Russian Grand Prix, with Red Bull deciding to make the decision during Friday’s second practice session.
It meant the 24-year-old was forced to start the race from the back of the grid at Sochi, despite leading the championship by five points over Hamilton.
Drivers can only make three engine changes over 22-races before they are hit with a grid penalty, and with a grid drop already confirmed, Red Bull had remained on the fence as to if they may change it.
Ultimately the decision paid off, as Verstappen carved his way through the pack throughout the race, with Red Bull making a crucial well-timed pitstop for intermediate tyres in the closing stages of the race.
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The Dutchman finished second, just behind his main title rival but Masashi revealed he originally had to convince the team to take the fourth engine.
“We originally knew the Mercedes would be faster there and the set-up of the cars was completely different, so we thought they would finish 1-2,” Yamamoto, Honda’s F1 managing director, told the Japanese website Auto Sport Web.
“Max’s second place was the best we could do to minimise the damage. We were also able to put in the fourth engine, so I think that gives us an advantage.
“We had to put in a fourth PU at some point, so it was a good decision to put the PU in [at Sochi].
“It was a difficult decision because we had a number of options and we had to look at the situation in FP1 and see what we could do. I heard Red Bull had doubts about it until the end.
“I’m happy with the strategy because I was talking to Mr Marko and I personally thought Russia would be a good place to fit the fourth engine.
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“I knew Max would be able to overtake from the back of the grid to some extent and that he would be able to finish in the top five.
“Max himself said on Friday it would be hard to overtake, but at the end of the day we were second and I’m glad we put the fourth engine in there.”
It’s now Mercedes’ turn to decide if they are to take a fourth power unit for Hamilton ahead of the Turkish Grand Prix, which would see the seven-time world champion pick up a similar penalty to Verstappen in Russia.
The seven-time world champion has already used up the maximum permitted engines with seven races remaining, with a two-point lead heading to Istanbul.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff admitted Mercedes may have to make a change, adding that Hamilton accepts there could be a penalty incoming.
He told Sky Sports News: “It’s a possibility. When, and how, is not yet decided. Most important is that you don’t DNF because of a reliability issue.
“You can cope with swings, whether you finish second, third, I think that is OK, the championship is going to go long. But if you don’t finish…
“So we are looking at the parameters of the engines, making sure we don’t suffer from any reliability problems.”