Sebastian Vettel's hopes of securing victory for Ferrari at the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi this weekend have been dealt a sizable blow after the four-time world champion was handed a grid penalty due to a gearbox change. Current Formula 1 rules stipulate that teams must use the same unit for six consecutive events, with any unscheduled upgrade automatically punished by a fall of five places.
Lewis Hamilton was subject to the same penalty prior to the last race in China, where Mercedes decided to incur the sanction and rely upon the 31-year-old taking advantage of the plentiful overtaking opportunities on offer at the Shanghai International Circuit rather than risk retirement. Such a problem compounded a rather frustrating day for Vettel, who maintained good pace during the second practice session but was later forced to sit out following another issue with the car.
"Looks like we had an electric problem, but I am sure we can fix it," he was quoted as saying by the official Formula 1 website. "Still, it is a shame, because now we are lacking some laps, especially in the long runs on race trims, which would have allowed us to see how competitive we are. But Kimi [Raikkonen] did the homework for the team, so it is not too bad.
"Also, here in Russia we know roughly what to expect. I think we can still learn a lot from what other people did. In qualifying trim we still have some stuff to improve. I think the car was getting better though. The track was quite dirty in the morning and then during the day it came more towards us. I felt happier as the day continued, it's true that for the race we are lacking a bit of information, but we will see tomorrow morning, when we have another practice session."
Vettel finished third behind both Silver Arrows in the Drivers' Standings last season and currently lies fourth and 42 points adrift of runaway leader Nico Rosberg. The former Red Bull stalwart led for a while during the 2016 curtain-raiser in Australia, but eventually finished third after a red flag and a debatable tyre policy. He was sadly forced to retire on the formation lap in Bahrain following engine failure and eventually came second in China despite colliding with teammate Raikkonen at the first corner. He made headlines after that race for a pre-podium room spat with Daniil Kvyat, whom he considered reckless and blamed for that early clash.