The McLaren of Fernando Alonso, both Red Bulls and both Toro Rossos will all be demoted to the back of the grid due to a plague of power unit penalties. Lando Norris managed to get Alonso’s car out on track before the Red Bulls and Toro Rossos in FP1 and because of the way penalties are applied it ensures that Alonso will start the race ahead of the other penalised drivers in 16th.
Red Bull made the decision to replace the slightly more powerful Spec C Renault unit with an improved Spec B on both cars. The thinking behind this decision has depended on the fragility of the Spec C, and the lack of faith the team has in it at upcoming high-altitude races in Mexico and Brazil. At higher altitudes, the air feeding the power units is less dense, meaning that the process of burning fuel is less effective. Red Bull would clearly rather take the more reliable unit to these races, particularly after conceding that Mexico remains its last legitimate chance at victory in 2018.
Toro Rosso’s penalties are a bit more straightforward and positive in that Honda is introducing a more powerful upgrade. Honda has taken the penalty here so that it has some data on this update available going into its home race in Japan next week.
Alonso isn’t running any upgrades, he just happened to run out of his allocation this weekend. The silver lining that he will be starting 16th (followed by the Red Bulls and then the Toro Rossos), so at least he can attack some cars ahead that might’ve been behind him in normal qualifying conditions going into turn one.
After having no drivers out of position last time out in Singapore, we have a quarter of the grid out of position this weekend. Particularly with the Red Bull drivers, this is disappointing in the context of the title fight between Hamilton and Vettel. It would have added a bit of drama had Ricciardo and Verstappen been causing trouble for the title contenders in the opening phase of the Grand Prix at least.