Charles Leclerc took his fourth consecutive pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, but Lewis Hamilton crucially split the Ferraris in qualifying.
The recent Ferrari resurgence continued with Leclerc becoming the first Ferrari driver to take four poles in a row since Michael Schumacher across 2000/01. Intriguingly, Mercedes opted for medium tires for the start of the race by advancing on those from Q2 – compared to softs for the rest of the top 10 – and Hamilton then pipped Vettel by 0.023s to join Leclerc on the front row, but he was 0.402s off pole.
Vettel will start alongside Valtteri Bottas on the second row after Max Verstappen’s grid penalty, with the Red Bull driver dropping to ninth after taking a new internal combustion engine (ICE) this weekend. That promotes Carlos Sainz to fifth on the grid alongside Nico Hulkenberg as battle continues between McLaren and Renault, with the former announcing its split from the French manufacturer as a power unit supplier in 2021 in preference of a return to Mercedes earlier on Saturday.
Lando Norris will start from seventh alongside Romain Grosjean, who impressed for Haas, ahead of former Red Bull team-mates Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Verstappen was the lone Red Bull in Q3 after his latest team-mate Alexander Albon crashed early on.
The tight midfield battle was exemplified by Q2, where Pierre Gasly went from P6 after the first runs to be eliminated by just over 0.05s in 11th place. He was joined by Sergio Perez in 12th, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen – after an error – and Lance Stroll. All four will move up as a result of Gasly having a five-place grid penalty for a new ICE this weekend.
Only 19 cars took part in Q1 after home favorite Daniil Kvyat missed the session. Kvyat was already due to start from the back of the grid due to a power unit penalty this weekend but then suffered stoppages in both FP1 and FP3, the latter requiring another new PU. With the penalty already hanging over him, Toro Rosso saw no reason to rush the change and therefore he sat out the session.
He was joined by another Honda-powered car soon after as Albon crashed at Turn 13. The Red Bull rookie had a very similar spin to that suffered by Verstappen in FP3, but carried more momentum and went backwards into the barrier to damage the rear wing and right rear corner.
The incident brought out the red flag and left only three drivers to drop out when running resumed. George Russell and Robert Kubica were predictable in 17th and 18th respectively – the latter with a back of the grid penalty for a power unit change – while Kimi Raikkonen was a surprise elimination in 16th as Alfa Romeo struggled, Giovinazzi knocking out his team-mate by less than 0.1s.