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Bottas hit by gearbox penalty in Suzuka

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SUZUKA, Japan -- Valtteri Bottas will receive a five-place grid penalty at the Japanese Grand Prix after Mercedes was forced to make an unscheduled gearbox change on his car.

Under the regulations, a driver's gearbox is required to last six consecutive races and any break in that cycle results in a five-place grid penalty. As a result, the highest he can hope to qualify on Saturday is sixth (assuming other drivers ahead of him are not penalised moving him forward) presenting a tough challenge in Sunday's race.

It is Bottas' second gearbox failure this year after Mercedes was also forced to make an unscheduled change ahead of the British Grand Prix in July.

Bottas finished first practice at Suzuka in fifth place and opted not to take part in the wet second practice. A lackluster performance at the last round in Malaysia saw Bottas slip 59 points adrift of teammate Lewis Hamilton the drivers' championship, with his championship hopes now hanging by a thread.

"It was definitively a better starting point than one week ago in Malaysia, for us," Bottas said before the news of the gearbox penalty was public. "It's early in the weekend but it wasn't a bad start. We still have some issues with the car and we need to things better, but at least it's better than one week ago. At least we now have a direction to work for. It's a different track, we have different temperatures, so at least now we have a direction to work for.

"With the soft tyre the car was feeling quite OK but we still have some work to do with the one-lap performance on the super-soft. Apart from that it was much better than one week ago."

Hamilton also has a new gearbox on his car this weekend, but that was in line with his six race cycle. Assuming there are no further problems this year, both drivers will use their new gearboxes for the rest of the season.

The gearbox rule is part of Formula One's regulations in an effort to save costs by limiting the amount of expensive drivetrain components fitted to a car over the course of the year. The rule only applies to the Saturday and Sunday of a race weekend, meaning the gearbox fitted to Bottas' car during Friday practice would not have been the one that had the problem.