ISTANBUL • Seven-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton will take a 10-place grid penalty for the Turkish Grand Prix, after Mercedes changed the engine on his car yesterday amid reliability concerns.
The new internal combustion engine (ICE) exceeds the Briton's allocation of three for the season, triggering the penalty.
Hamilton is two points clear of Red Bull's Max Verstappen with seven races to go, including the one at Istanbul Park tomorrow, and the risk of mechanical failure is too big a risk to chance.
Verstappen took a penalty at the previous rain-hit race in Russia, starting last after changing his engine, but still finished second to limit the damage.
Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes' head of trackside engineering, told Sky Sports that the team had simulated all the races to the end of the year before deciding Turkey was the best option.
Recalling how Hamilton went from 19th to second at the Istanbul circuit in a GP2 race in 2006, the year before his Formula One debut with McLaren, he said: "This is a circuit, you remember Lewis and that GP2 race, where he felt there's a lot of opportunity and it should make for an exciting Sunday."
Istanbul is also a circuit that suits Hamilton, who sealed his record-equalling seventh championship here last year.
The 36-year-old would have gone to the back of the grid had Mercedes changed all the elements in the power unit, but Shovlin claimed changing the engine covered most of the risk and anything more was "a lot of fairly intrusive work".
"Obviously, the thing that you definitely don't want to do is fail during a race and then have to take a penalty anyway," he said.
"Then there's also a performance element, because the power units do lose a bit of horsepower over their life.
"The bit that most contributes to that reliability element and the performance is the ICE itself and it's better to take 10 places than start from the back."
Hamilton lapped fastest in first practice yesterday in one minute and 24.178 seconds, four-tenths of a second quicker than Verstappen, who was second on the time sheets.
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc was third fastest, 0.476 off the leader.
His teammate Carlos Sainz will start from the back of the grid, after taking an entire new power unit as part of a planned upgrade.
Meanwhile, F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali yesterday confirmed the motorsport is in talks with Turkish authorities on a long-term deal for the race.
Speaking alongside Domenicali, chairman Vural Ak, the head of Istanbul Park circuit, said they are working to secure a contract of up to 10 years.
Despite the track being popular with drivers, the Turkish GP drew low crowds when it hosted races from 2005 to 2011. Some 100,000 fans are expected to attend over the weekend.