George Russell joins Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes
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Former Formula One driver Mika Hakkinen has praised Red Bull’s gamble to take a new power unit ahead of the Russian Grand Prix, relegating Max Verstappen to the back of the grid.
Red Bull were braced to take a new engine after Verstappen lost one of his engines when he crashed heavily at the British Grand Prix with Lewis Hamilton at Silverstone.
The Dutchman already had a three-place grid penalty handed to him from the Italian Grand Prix for causing a collision, after again coming together with his main title rival.
And Hakkinen believes it was a gamble worth taking for Red Bull and Verstappen.
“Red Bull Racing’s decision to give Max a new power unit, putting him to the back of the grid on a circuit which normally suits Mercedes, and eliminating his 3-place grid penalty, took a lot of courage,” wrote Hakkinen in his column for Unibet. “It really paid off.”
Verstappen finished second after a chaotic end to the race in Sochi, with rain falling heavily with a few laps remaining.
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Teams were forced to change their slick tyres to intermediates, with Red Bull timing their pit stop perfectly.
“It was amazing to see Max finished second,” added Haikkonen, who won two world titles in 1998 and 1999 alongside McLaren. “For a long time, it looked like this Grand Prix was going away from him, trapped outside the top 5 and finding it difficult to make the progress he wanted. When the rain came his pit stop was quick and perfectly timed.
“That second place means that although Lewis won the race and regained the lead in the World Championship, Max is only two points behind. The championship could not be more finely balanced.”
Despite losing the lead of the championship to Hamilton, Verstappen was elated with his performance, admitting it was a bit of a surprise.
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“We will definitely take that result,” said Verstappen after the race. “Of course to come from last to second is very good and when I woke up this morning I definitely didn’t expect this result.
“To finish where we did with the penalty we had, we didn’t lose as many points as we could have so as a Team we did a really good job.
“It was a crucial call to change to the inters, it was really slippery on track and we made a great decision with the timing and took the right lap to pit.
“A lot of things can happen when you’re starting from the back of the grid, especially on the first lap when other cars are fighting each other, but we stayed out of trouble, kept it clean, and managed our race very well.
“The race itself was not very easy, it was difficult to pass other cars and once you got stuck it was easy to damage your tyres but luckily in the end the rain helped us make the last jump in positions.”
Hamilton took his 100th Formula One win in Sochi as the championship heads to Turkey next with seven races remaining of the 2021 season.
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