Betting the Russian Grand Prix is going to be incredibly tricky.
Max Verstappen faces a three-place grid penalty at Sochi (8 a.m. ET, ESPN2) for his role in the crash between himself and Lewis Hamilton at Monza. The two drivers entered the chicane side-by-side after Hamilton exited the pits and Verstappen’s car ended up on top of Hamilton’s after it hit the inside curb and popped up into the air.
Stewards ruled that Hamilton had the preferred line entering the corner after he left the pits and gave Verstappen enough room as they got into the chicane. Hamilton isn’t facing any penalty. If he qualifies first, he’ll start first. If Verstappen qualifies first, he’ll start fourth.
But that’s not the only potential grid penalty that Verstappen faces. His team needs to make an engine change. And it’s still not totally clear if that will happen at the Russian Grand Prix or not.
Teams are allowed to use three engines over the course of a season without penalty. Red Bull says it needs to use a fourth engine because of the damage that Verstappen’s Silverstone engine sustained in his wreck with Hamilton. If the team goes to a fourth engine, Verstappen has to start at the back of the field like Valtteri Bottas did at Monza when his team changed engines.
The engine change variable looms large over the Russian Grand Prix because Red Bull isn’t sure if it will change Verstappen’s engine. Red Bull’s Helmut Marko said this week that the team will wait for qualifying and to see what the weather is like before it makes the decision to change engines.
The best-case scenario for Red Bull could be Verstappen qualifying third or fourth. That would mean he starts the race outside the top five because of the Monza penalty and make the Red Bull decision to put him at the back with a new engine a bit easier. It would also get the engine penalty over with.
If Verstappen wins the pole, Red Bull could be tempted to let him start fourth and see if he could race for the win and push the engine change and ensuing penalty off for another race.
Whatever Red Bull ends up doing colors how you should bet the race weekend. And oddsmakers know that. Hamilton is the favorite for the race win at -135 while Verstappen is at +350 to win the race. That’s the highest odds we’ve seen for a Verstappen win in quite some time and reflects the uncertainty surrounding him ahead of the Russian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton to finish in the top three (-300)
Hamilton has a huge advantage entering the weekend. Sochi is a track set up to Mercedes’ car style and he’s almost guaranteed to start ahead of Verstappen on Sunday. A top three should be a sure thing. But we also thought that ahead of Monza.
McLaren to be the fastest non-Mercedes and Red Bull car (-185)
McLaren should once again have a lot of speed. We’re not expecting a letdown for the team that went 1-2 at Monza.
Lando Norris to finish higher than every other non-Mercedes and Red Bull driver (+150)
It’s Norris’ time to shine for McLaren. He was the No. 2 to Daniel Ricciardo at Monza and could even start in the top three on Sunday.
Max Verstappen to post the fastest lap (+300)
If Verstappen starts at the back of the field he’s going to get a lot of opportunities to use his DRS to make passes. We think that increased straightaway speed while driving through the field will help him get the fastest lap.
Valtteri Bottas to win the race (+450)
Sochi is Bottas’ best track. He has two wins and five top-three finishes in seven starts in Russia with an average finish of 3.6. We wouldn’t be surprised if he starts and ends the race in first.