Valtteri Bottas has beaten his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton by a tenth of a second to take pole position for the Russian Grand Prix. The Finn appeared as he was the slower of the two, but a mistake by Hamilton on his final lap allowed him to pip him by a tenth.
Bottas has always gone well in Sochi and maintains a 100% record of out-qualifying his teammate and being in the top four. His pole came thanks to a mistake in the second sector by Hamilton after he suffered a huge slide into turn seven.
Hamilton’s title rival Sebastian Vettel was third, with the Ferrari being over half a second off the outright pace of Bottas. Mercedes are believed to have the upper hand this weekend, they have taken victory in Sochi since it joined the calendar in 2014.
Bottas appeared to be the one with the advantage, as Hamilton struggled to find the time to match him throughout the Q3 session. Kimi Raikkonen was just under three tenths off his Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel. The weekend hasn’t been one where Ferrari has been able to perform as they expected after winning last year.
Bottas said “It feels good, I have only been on pole once this year – in Austria – it is a good feeling. Normally it has been a pretty good track for me here. The car felt really strong as the times show, the team has done an exceptional job again.”
Hamilton added “Firstly a big congratulations to Valtteri, he’s driven brilliantly this weekend and he just did a better job. My last two laps of Q3 weren’t great, you can’t always have it – but we’re still in contention for tomorrow. We rely fully on the team, the guys all do an impeccable job. It’s motivating to see the upgrades on the car and see the changes.”
Vettel said “It was important to get as close to them but it is true they have been very quick. it is a long race and the tyres will be important. We should’ve been a lot closer. I’m quite happy, the car felt alright so that makes me happy. If there is a gap we will go for it.”
Both Red Bull’s and Renault’s opted not to take part in Q2, knowing that they were starting from the back. That created opportunities for the midfield teams to get through to Q3, with Haas’s Kevin Magnussen best of the rest in Q3 after being eight thousandths quicker than the Sauber of Charles Leclerc.
Q2, in the end, proved rather pointless, every car which set a time easily made it through to Q3. Pierre Gasly, the only non-Red Bull and Renault, also opted not to set a time.
Daniel Ricciardo starts seventeenth, Max Verstappen eighteenth and Gasly nineteenth, the decision not to run was to save mileage on the new engines, so that they can get through to the end of the season
Renault decided not to set times so they could go into the race with free tyre choice, that should give them the edge in the race as the top ten will all start on the tyres used to set there fastest times in Q2.
The French manufacturer made that decision came after drivers struggled at the start of the Singapore GP on the quickest, but less durable hypersofts, which the midfield runners will be using here in Russia.
That tactic proved very useful for Fernando Alonso in his way to seventh in Singapore, something which Renault will look to copy. McLaren meanwhile had another difficult afternoon, as both Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne were knocked out in Q1.
However, because Alonso’s car was first out in P1 driven by Lando Norris he starts from the back of the grid.
Fellow former greats Williams also couldn’t get a car through. Sergey Sirotkin was set for an improvement before spinning on his final lap, while team-mate Lance Stroll has endured a painful weekend. Stroll was forced to abort his last lap, as his teammate spun.