New gearboxes for Verstappen and Hamilton, but no new ICE

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen racing Lewis Hamilton. Mexico November 2021

Both title rivals, Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, will run new gearboxes in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Neither driver will be penalised as they used their previous gearbox for the mandatory six successive grands prix.

Verstappen and Hamilton arrived at the Jeddah Corniche circuit for the penultimate race in the championship separated by eight points in the Red Bull driver’s favour.

That means if Verstappen out-scores Hamilton by 18 or more points on Sunday, he will be crowned F1’s newest World Champion.

However, if the points gap is fewer than 18, the title race will go down to the final race of the season in Abu Dhabi.

Both Red Bull and Mercedes have opted to avoid any chance of a gearbox issue ruining their driver’s chance of winning, replacing the part for the Saudi Arabian GP.

Neither though, has a new ICE.

Max Verstappen with his visor open. Qatar November 2021

While it was speculated by some pundits that this weekend’s grand prix would be the perfect time to hand Verstappen a new Internal Combustion Engine, Hamilton having taken a new one in Brazil, Red Bull have decided against it.

Verstappen explained that’s because unlike Mercedes’ ICE, the Honda one doesn’t offer the same performance gains out the box.

“We don’t have a [performance] peak like Mercedes,” he said.

“Our engine is fairly consistent throughout its life, so that wouldn’t help us very much.”

The 24-year-old isn’t worried that reliability could hurt him.

“At least there are no question marks from my side,” he said. “I know what I have in terms of engines and normally we should be able to do it with that.”

But while Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has said they may yet fit Verstappen’s RB16B with a fresh ICE in Abu Dhabi, former F1 driver turned pundit Ralf Schumacher feels this weekend would be the better option.

He told Speedweek.com: “There are currently rumours that Honda might install a new internal combustion engine after all and accept a penalty of five places, in order to have a fresh engine against Mercedes. That might make sense.

“Red Bull could say Jeddah is a Mercedes track anyway, so in the best case scenario we will finish second.

“Then better back five places, in the hope of working your way up to second place in the race, but then having a fresher engine at the World Championship final in Abu Dhabi.”