Valtteri Bottas has claimed his second pole position of the season by leading a Mercedes front-row lockout at the Russian Grand Prix.
The top-10 shootout was the first session the Finn led all weekend, and after the first runs he did so by just 0.004 seconds over teammate Lewis Hamilton. Those first flying laps of Q3 were enough to mark the battle for pole as an exclusive Mercedes affair, with Ferrari title contender Sebastian Vettel more than half a second off the pace and his teammate Kimi Raikkonen even further behind.
Bottas and Hamilton both made improvements in the first sector on their second attempts, but a wide moment on Hamilton’s part at Turn 7 was enough to hand his teammate the decisive advantage to seize pole by 0.145s.
“It was nice lap,” said Bottas. “But it’s only the first step this weekend. It’s a massively long run from the start line to Turn 1, so it’s going to be important to try and keep position [in the race].”
Hamilton, after congratulating his teammate, said he was happy to be starting on the front row.
“It was intense, as it always is,” said the Briton. “My last two laps were not special, but you can’t always get it right. At least were still in the fight for the race tomorrow.”
Vettel — who must beat Hamilton to victory this weekend to keep his championship destiny in his own hands — qualified third and will start on the clean side of the grid, but he admitted he was never in contention for pole.
“It was important to get as close as possible to (Mercedes), but it’s true they’re very quick,” he said. “I think it should’ve been a bit closer, but not enough to be a threat.”
Raikkonen qualified fourth, the Ferrari driver almost an entire second quicker than the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, the fastest driver of the midfield. Force India’s Esteban Ocon was a further 0.2s off the pace and kept Sauber’s Charles Leclerc at bay by just 0.006s. Sergio Perez followed in the sister Force India ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson in the second Sauber car.
Red Bull Racing pair Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly were classified 11th to 13th in Q2, but all three opted against setting a time due to the grid penalties weighing them down regardless of their qualifying performances. The trio each exceeded their maximum power unit allocations in Russia, dropping Ricciardo, Verstappen and Gasly to 17th, 18th and 19th on the grid respectively.
Their non-participation in Q2 had the bizarre side effect of prompting Renault to keep Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg in their garages. The French team knew its cars weren’t quick enough to qualify for the top-10 shootout but that grid penalties for other cars would promote them to 11th and 12th on the grid anyway, rendering any laps a waste of time. All 10 cars that set a lap in Q2 therefore qualified for the top-10 shootout without effort.
Brendon Hartley was the fastest driver eliminated from Q1 in 16th, making Russia the ninth successive grand prix in which the under-pressure Kiwi has been outqualified by teammate Pierre Gasly.
The Toro Rosso driver was 0.382 shy of progressing to Q2 but was still almost half a second quicker than McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in 17th. However, both drivers are carrying grid-place penalties for exceeding their allocation of power unit parts, relegating Hartley to last on the grid and promoting Alonso to 16th.
Russian Sergey Sirotkin set the 18th-fastest time for Williams ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne and Lance Stroll, though the triumvirate will start in grid places 13 and 15 after penalties take effect.