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Lewis Hamilton to be pushed to BACK of grid with huge engine penalty this season, Red Bull chiefs expect

RED BULL are confident that Lewis Hamilton will be pushed to the back of the grid as his title fight with Max Verstappen reaches its climax.

The Dutchman managed to finish second in Sochi on Sunday despite starting from last place.

Drivers are only allocated three engines for the season, with heavy starting grid penalties handed out for each extra power unit fitted to the car.

Verstappen crossed the threshold in Russia while Hamilton's Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas started 16th after using his fifth engine.

And while the Brit is yet to join them, Red Bull boss Helmut Marko has voiced his confidence that it is only a matter of time.

Marko declared on Sky Sports: "I hope that our information is correct.

"According to that, Lewis will have to change again. Going from last place on the grid to the podium doesn’t happen that quickly.

"The upcoming tracks are to our advantage, especially because of the altitude in Brazil or Mexico. We need to win again now, but feel strong enough and attack again."

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Despite losing his championship lead, Verstappen's run to second in the Russian rain was considered a vital recovery by Red Bull - particularly with Bottas failing to hold up the title contender before finishing fifth.

Team principal Christian Horner believes Bottas' latest penalty, which led to the Finn cracking a joke at his team's expense, is a bad sign for Hamilton.

He said: "We’re not privy to that kind of information.

"But you’d assume that [with] the amount of Mercedes engines that are being changed in their sister cars and customer teams, you’d expect potentially for there to be a penalty.

"But obviously we can’t rely on it."

Unlike Verstappen and Bottas, Hamilton has not lost an engine to a crash.

Right now my I'm trying to treat my engines with absolute care when I'm driving.

Lewis Hamilton

One of the Red Bull's power units suffered a crack in his shunt with the 36-year-old at Silverstone.

But Hamilton is nonetheless having to nurse his remaining rotation of two power units, having been forced to bin one in Zandvoort.

He said after qualifying on Saturday: "In terms of engines, I have absolutely no idea.

"Of course I've lost one engine, Valtteri's had several. And there's been others that Mercedes have seen up and down the paddock.

"So right now my I'm trying to treat my engines, the ones that we put in, with absolute care when I'm driving.

"In terms of how much I'm gassing it, how much I'm revving the thing, revving the nuts off it, just really trying to minimise the laps that I do. But who knows? I can't control the future."

Hamilton carries his two-point lead in the championship to Turkey next month with only seven races to go in the 2021 season.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff has admitted that the team is itself uncertain over whether a grid penalty will have to be swallowed.

He accepted: "That's why we're having a few balls in the air.

"Because you need to have the right balance between making sure that you really sort out all the gremlins that you have in the power unit, not only for this year but also for next year's power unit.

"Definitely, we are in a phase of assessment on how to continue the season in terms of power units."

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