By Adam Tate, Associate Editor
Valtteri Bottas is set for a five place grid penalty for Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, by virtue of an unscheduled gearbox change for the No. 77 W08.
The controversial engine and gearbox change grid penalties, which Ross Brawn is considering banning for 2018 and beyond have proved costly for many drivers, and this penalty for Bottas comes at the worst time for Mercedes. FP2 was a washout as the skies above Suzuka Circuit dropped a deluge of rain on the track, but in FP1 the top three teams were separated by mere tenths of a second. Lewis Hamilton will need all the help he can get from Bottas on Sunday to stave off the onslaught from Ferrari and Red Bull, but the penalty means the best Bottas could theoretically start now is sixth.
With rain expected to dissipate for Qualifying, Bottas will need to be at his best to minimize the damage of the penalty. Further pouring the pressure on Mercedes is the baffling fact that Hamilton has never set a pole position at Suzuka, whereas title rival Sebastian Vettel has set four. Mercedes had a very lucky run in Singapore and Malaysia, but it looks like they will have a tougher time fighting for victory and big points in Japan this weekend. Ferrari and Red Bull must be salivating at the prospect.