Lewis Hamilton underscored Mercedes’s stranglehold on the field ahead of qualifying with a dominant display in final practice at the Russian Grand Prix.The Briton’s time of 1m33.279s was 0.776 seconds quicker than teammate Valtteri Bottas and 0.817s quicker than McLaren’s Carlos Sainz.
Bottas’s best lap was compromised by traffic, after which he wasn’t allowed to access his more powerful engine modes to compensate, while Sainz’s lap was set less than 10 minutes before the end of the session when the circuit appeared to be coming back towards the drivers thanks to cloud cover cooling surface temperatures.
Drivers again found grip to be lacking around the dusty Sochi Autodrom despite a day and half worth of running cleaning up the asphalt. Bottas and Hamilton logged scruffy laps early in the session as they traded times atop the order, with Turn 7 in particular catching both out, among several other drivers.
Esteban Ocon survived a snap of oversteer at the penultimate corner early in the session by utilizing the ample run-off zone before later taking the fourth-fastest time 0.96s off the pace, with Sergio Perez was 0.013s adrift of the Frenchman for Racing Point.
Max Verstappen was sixth for Red Bull Racing and more than a second off the pace despite running a close second for much of the morning. The Dutchman tried to keep up with the Mercedes drivers on their final soft-tire runs, setting the fastest first sector of the session, but abandoned the lap thereafter, leaving his ultimate pace unknown ahead of qualifying.
Sebastian Vettel was an encouraging seventh for Ferrari, albeit 1.3s adrift of Hamilton, ahead of Lance Stroll in the second Racing Point and AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat in ninth.
Daniel Ricciardo was 10th for Renault, the Australian buoyant about his team’s hopes this weekend despite his right-hand mirror collapsing on what would have been his final flying lap.
Pierre Gasly was 11th for AlphaTauri on a messy morning for the Frenchman, who spun his car over the bumps at Turn 15 early and was seemingly blocked by Sergio Perez while on a hot lap late. However, his best was still enough to be 0.014s quicker than Charles Leclerc in the second Ferrari.
George Russell was 13th for Williams ahead of Romain Grosjean’s Haas. Grosjean told his team via pit radio he was “fed up” with the car early in the session, but he recovered late to clock the 14th-quickest time. His afternoon ended with a spin over the bumps at Turn 15, prompting another blast of radio frustration.
Nicholas Latifi followed in 15th for Williams ahead of Kevin Magnussen in the second Haas car, with Alfa Romeo teammates Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen 17th and 18th.
Alex Albon ended the day 19th for Red Bull Racing after his quickest lap was deleted for exceeding track limits at the exit of Turn 2, while Lando Norris finished 20th having spent the session evaluating a new aerodynamic package for McLaren.