Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes AMG F1 team took a long-awaited pole position in the qualifying session of the Russian Grand Prix. He beat teammate Lewis Hamilton to P2 and Sebastian Vettel of Scuderia Ferrari to P3. Kimi Raikkonen and Kevin Magnussen rounded off the top five.
Valtteri Bottas Takes Pole Ahead of Lewis Hamilton
Q1: Hamilton tops while Ferraris struggle
The first qualifying session started under sunny and clear skies with air temperatures at 23 degrees C and track temperatures at 37 degrees C. All cars started on the stickiest hypersoft tyres. Kevin Magnussen set the first timed lap, while Sebastian Vettel set the initial benchmark time of 1:33.534s. Soon enough Bottas overhauled it with a lap of 1:33.170s. The Red Bulls came out very late for just a couple of laps as they need to serve grid penalties for Power Unit (PU) changes. Even with such a half-hearted attempt, they were ahead of both the Ferraris.
Later in Q1, Hamilton went fastest with a time of 1:32.410s. The dropzone had the usual suspects – Lance Stroll, Sergey Sirotkin, Stoffel Vandoorne and Brendon Hartley. This time even Fernando Alonso could not escape being dropped out in Q1. Nico Hulkenberg narrowly managed to scrape through to Q2.
Q2: Saubers progress as Red Bull, Toro Rosso & Renault sit out
As both the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo chose to sit out the second qualifying session due to penalties, the sister Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly chose to follow suit. Though the Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg were not similarly penalized, they too chose to conserve their engines and tyres. So Q2 turned out to be a virtual dress rehearsal for the top ten shootout.
Both the Mercedes and Ferrari cars came out on ultrasoft tyres on their first runs and set their best times. Again both took to the hypersofts on their second runs to check their performance compared to the ultras, but aborted the laps just in time not to go fastest on them. So, in effect, both the teams will start on the mid-range ultrasoft tyres in the race on Sunday. Hamilton topped Q2 with a time of 1:32.595s.
Q3: Bottas aces Hamilton and rest of field
By the time the top-ten shootout started, it was clear that the Silver Arrows were in a class of their own. So the real fight for the pole was effectively only between the Mercedes drivers. Hamilton looked in sublime form, while Bottas had a point to prove being the defending champion of the Russian GP.
On their first runs, Bottas went fastest with a 1:31.528s lap which Hamilton could not overhaul it. On his second run, Hamilton looked to go purple on sector one, but got a bit over-eager in sector two. With a mistake on that run, Hamilton had a huge oversteer at turn 7 compromising his lap and being unable to challenge Bottas’s lap. Bottas, on the other hand, drove an even better second lap to claim pole with a time of 1:31.387s.
With the Red Bulls out of contention, the prize for best of the rest moved from P7 to P5. Ocon, Leclerc and the Haas drivers were all looking up to the task. Kevin Magnussen finally clinched that coveted P5 to lead the way in the midfield.
The Last Word
Valtteri Bottas looks all set and determined to redeem himself with a win at the Sochi Autodrome, the site of his maiden career win. But Hamilton is their team’s championship contender. Toto Wolff may well orchestrate a position swap on the first lap or in the pits. Ferrari are looking way off the pace on Saturday but may come up with a clever strategy to give Vettel a chance. Vettel will also be encouraged by the memory of last year’s race being won from P3. Red Bulls will be charging hard from the back. It’s all to play for on Sunday afternoon at Sochi!
Russian GP Qualification Results:
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