Sebastian Vettel took his first pole position of 2017, as Kimi Raikkonen’s second place in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix saw Ferrari score it’s first front-row lock-out since the French Grand Prix of 2008.
All through practice at the Sochi Autodrom, Ferrari had the edge over Mercedes but in opening qualifying session Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton claimed the top two positions and in Q2 Bottas again took P1 to signal that the Silver Arrows were set to once again stamp their authority on the battle for grid supremacy.
That eventuality failed to materialise, however, as first Raikkonen and then Vettel stepped up the pace and stole ahead of the Mercedes in Q3. After the first runs Raikkonen led with a lap of 1:33.253, three hundredths of a second ahead of Bottas. Vettel who later admitted to a scrappy first flyer was third ahead of Vettel.
The German corrected the errors in a supremely tense final run, however. The four-time champion improved and jumped to P1. First across the line, he was then forced to wait as his rivals completed their laps.
“I knew it would be tight,” said Vettel of this 47th career pole position. “I immediately and asked about everybody else, ‘tell me about the others’. My race engineer Ricardo told me ‘they are closing the lap, they are closing the lap’. I said: ‘Yeah, let me know, let me know, how are the sectors, how are the split times?’ The first one I got was Valtteri who didn’t manage to improve and then when I got the message that we got it, I was over the moon.”
In the end Vettel was the only one of the top four to improve on his final run, and so Raikkonen finished second ahead of Bottas, while an oddly muted session for Lewis Hamilton saw the Briton qualify fourth, almost half a second behind his team-mate.
Behind the Mercedes cars, Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for Red Bull Racing. As with the front four the Australian failed to improve on his opening Q3 run. His margin to rivals behind was good enough, however, to keep him at the front of row three. Team-mate Max’s Verstappen’s opening-run time was not as secure, however, and in the last moments of the session, Williams’ Felipe Massa stole in with a lap of 1:35.110 to push the Dutchman to P7.
“I was actually very poor after Q2,” said Verstappen. “I had two sets [of tyres] in Q3, but I was already complaining in Q2 the last sector I was losing a lot of grip under braking into Turn 13, so I was losing the rear.
“And then you overheat the tyres and everything gets worse and worse. And with the two sets in Q3 it got worse again.
“Normally with less fuel in the car you should do better, but I went slower so that’s not the way to go. And that results in this seventh on the grid.”
Verstappen will line up beside Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg on row four, while row five will feature the Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
Eleventh place in the session went to Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, with Williams Lance Stroll 13th ahead of the second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat in P13. The three were separated by just two hundredths of a second. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was the last man eliminated in Q2 in 15th.
Jolyon Palmer was 16th. The Renault driver crashed out at the end of Q1 when he caught too much of a kerb in Turn 4 and was pitched into the barriers on the opposite of the track. He was eliminated ahead of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, the Saubers of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson and the second Haas of Romain Grosjean. Vandoore, though, will start from the back of the grid as he is due to take an engine-related grid penalty.
2017 Russian Grand Prix – Qualifying
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:33.194s –
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:33.253s 0.059s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:33.289s 0.095s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.767s 0.573s
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:34.905s 1.711s
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:35.110s 1.916s
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:35.161s 1.967s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:35.285s 2.091s
9 Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.337s 2.143s
10 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:35.430s 2.236s
11 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:35.948s –
12 Lance Stroll Williams 1:35.964s –
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:35.968s –
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:36.017s –
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:36.660s –
16 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:36.462s –
17 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1:37.332s –
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:37.507s –
19 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:37.620s –
20 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:37.070s –