Valtteri Bottas claimed the sixth pole position of his career and his first since the Austrian Grand Prix in July beating Mercedes team-mate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton to the front of the Russian Grand Prix grid by 0.145s.
Title contender Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, was forced to settle for third place and the second row of the Sochi Autodrom grid, where he will be joined by team-mate Kimi Räikkönen. Both Ferraris were more than half a second off the pace of Bottas.
“It feels good,” said Bottas, who took his maiden F1 win in Sochi in 2017. “I’ve only once on pole, earlier this year in Austria, so it’s been a bit long since last time, so it is a good feeling.
“Coming into this weekend I knew that normally this has been a pretty good track for me and again managed to get some good laps in qualifying and the car just felt really, really strong.”
The session was dominated by Mercedes from the start. In Q1, Hamilton ran half a second ahead of Bottas and almost a second ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen as the segment entered its final minutes.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo then appeared and both quickly made their way to the sharp end of the order, with Verstappen eventually claiming P3 just ahead of Ricciardo. Vettel and Raikkonen finished fourth and fifth.
In the drop zone and eliminated at the end of the session were Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley in 16th place, followed by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin, who spun on his final lap, the second McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne and second Williams driver Lance Stroll.
Hamilton was again to the fore in the second segement, a time of 1:32.595, once more putting him ahead of his team-mate. Vettel again slotted into third place ahead of Räikkönen, with both Ferrari drivers four tenths of a second off the pace of Mercedes’ quickest man.
Further down the order, five drivers elected to sit out the session, with Red Bull’s Verstappen and Ricciardo, Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg, and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly all remaining garage bound throughout. Red Bull, Toro Rosso and McLaren are facing heavy grid penalties for tomorrow’s race.
Their inactivity led to the strange situation that the top 10 on the timesheet after the opening runs were assured of progression to Q3 and would not need to run. Nevertheless a number of teams took to the track in the closing stages of Q2, including Mercedes and Ferrari. However, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers backed out of final runs on hypersofts and so will start on the ultrasoft tyres used in their opening Q2 runs.
In Q3, Hamilton’s dominance of the session came to an end. Bottas seized the initiative, setting an opening time of 1:31.528. The lap left him 0.004s up on Hamilton. Ferrari were again some way back, with Vettel 0.639s off Bottas in third and Räikkönen another tenth back in fourth. Force India’s Esteban Ocon was fifth, just 0.006s of a second ahead of Sauber’s Charles Leclerc.
And in the final runs Bottas held his nerve to claim a sixth career pole position. First across the line, the Finn improved to a time of 1:31.387. Behind him on track, Hamilton was quicker through the first sector, but he then made a mistake, running wide in Turn 7. With too much time lost, Hamilton abandoned his lap and handed top spot to his team-mate.
Vettel took third, half a second adrift of Bottas, while Räikkönen is set to line up in fourth place.
Haas’ Kevin Magnussen put in an impressive final lap to claim best-of-the-rest status at the front of row three, with Ocon sixth ahead of Leclerc, Sergio Perez of Force India, the second Haas of Romain Grosjean and the Sauber of Marcus Ericsson.
2018 Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:31.387
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:31.532
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:31.943
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:32.237
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1m33.181
6 Esteban Ocon Racing Point Force India 1:33.413
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1:33.419
8 Sergio Perez Racing Point Force India 1:33.563
9 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:33.704
11 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing –
12 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing –
13 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso –
14 Carlos Sainz Renault –
15 Nico Hulkenberg Renault –
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1:35.037
17 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:35.504
18 Sergey Sirotkin McLaren 1:35.612
19 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:35.977
20 Lance Stroll Williams 1:36.437