Max Verstappen will start from rear in Russian GP; Valtteri Bottas fastest in 1st practice

F1 Verstappen engine rear
Mark Thompson/Getty Images

SOCHI, Russia — F1 championship leader Max Verstappen will start from the rear of Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix after an engine change.

Verstappen, who already was facing a three-position grid penalty for contact with Lewis Hamilton two weeks ago at Monza, has a new Honda internal combustion engine, turbo and other components that have exceeded the Red Bull Racing team’s parts allocation for the season.

Valtteri Bottas set the fastest time in the first practice session Friday for the Russian GP ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Bottas’ best time of 1 minute, 34.427 seconds was 0.211 seconds faster than Hamilton. Verstappen of Red Bull was 0.016 further back in third.

Charles Leclerc placed fourth for Ferrari and Red Bull driver Sergio Perez was ninth.

Both Friday sessions are expected to be dry, with heavy rain predicted for qualifying on Saturday, and rain considered likely for Sunday’s race.

Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen traded verbal blows at the Russian Grand Prix on Thursday, less than two weeks after a crash which knocked both of the Formula One title rivals out of the last race.

Seven-time champion Hamilton suggested Verstappen was feeling the pressure of fighting for what would be his first title.

“I remember what it was like fighting for my first championship, and obviously I’m fighting my 10th battle, something like that,” the British driver said. “I remember what it was like and I know the pressure that comes with it and the experiences that go with it. So I can empathize with that. I think what’s important is that we just continue to race hard but fair.”

Verstappen dismissed Hamilton’s comments.

“I’m so nervous I can barely sleep. It’s so horrible to fight for a title, I really hate it,” he deadpanned. “Those comments, it just shows you that he doesn’t really know me, which is fine. I also don’t need to know him, how he is fully, but I just focus on myself and I really enjoy it out there in front.”

The rivals collided halfway through the last race in Italy, allowing Daniel Ricciardo to claim a surprise win for McLaren. Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff credited the protective “halo” device around Hamilton’s cockpit with saving his life after Verstappen’s car bounced over his head. Verstappen has a three-place grid penalty in Russia after he was blamed for the crash – “Not ideal, but not the end of the world,” he said.

The day after the crash, Hamilton attended the Met Gala in New York. He credited yoga and acupuncture with helping him to recover from neck pain sustained in the crash and said in Russia he was feeling fine.

“It’s natural that when a car lands on your head, you’re going to have some sort of discomfort,” Hamilton said. “I didn’t say I was dying. Of course, aware of the fact that just in a millisecond anything can happen, and so I did feel grateful to come out of it not badly injured.”

It was the second time the two drivers clashed this year after a similar incident at the British GP.