Lewis Hamilton will seek to equal Michael Schumacher’s record 91 victories when he starts from pole position at the Russian Grand Prix after dominating qualifying in Sochi. Hamilton’s time of 1m31.304s was a new track record and put him more than half a second quicker than the rest of the field.
But the Briton didn’t have things all his own way. A red flag for a Sebastian Vettel crash in Q2 put him at risk of missing the top-10 shootout after his only representative lap of the session had been deleted for exceeding track limits. He had only 2m15s to leave his garage and start a lap, crossing the line with less than two seconds remaining, but he needed the soft tire just to guarantee progression. This means he’ll start the race on the delicate red-marked rubber while teammate Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen start on the far more favorable mediums.
Almost knocked out in Q2 😱
Back to his best in Q3 💪@LewisHamilton took his 96th pole position in Sochi, with @Max33Verstappen putting his Red Bull alongside on the front row#RussianGP 🇷🇺 #F1 pic.twitter.com/6D6vAXzW97
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 26, 2020
“That’s definitely going to make it hard to win the race,” he said, noting too that the long run to the first braking zone at Turn 2 will leave him vulnerable to being slipstreamed off the line. “It’s nice being on pole, but here’s probably the worst place to be on pole with the draggier cars this year, so I’m most likely I’m going to be dragged past tomorrow.”
Hamilton also remains under investigation for failing to rejoin the track as instructed after running wide at Turn 2 during Q2, with a grid drop a potential penalty if found guilty.
Verstappen will start alongside him after a blistering final lap pipped him past Bottas by a tenth of a second. The Dutchman said he was eyeing the drag down to turn two as a path to an unlikely victory.
“I think if we can have a decent start, then the tow effect is very big around here,” he said. “If I can get a good draft, who knows what’s going to happen into Turn 2.”
Bottas was a crushing 0.652s off the pace, but the Finn is optimistic that third on the grid directly behind Hamilton will leave him best-placed to snatch the lead on the first lap.
“It’s a pretty good place to start third, and I’m starting on the right tires,” he said. “I really think I have an advantage with the medium tire in the first stint, so still all to play for.”
Sergio Perez will start alongside the Finn in fourth, the Mexican the highest-placed Racing Point driver despite running an outdated aero specification. Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo fell just 0.047s short of Perez to qualify fifth and share the third row with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz. The sister cars of Esteban Ocon and Lando Norris respectively will start directly behind their teammates on the fourth row, qualifying seventh and eighth.
Pierre Gasly will start ninth for AlphaTauri alongside Red Bull Racing’s Alex Albon, who was 1.7s off pole and almost 1.2s slower than teammate Verstappen.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc missed out on the top 10 by 0.043 and will start 11th alongside AlphaTauri’s Daniil Kvyat.
Lance Stroll will start 13th after a technical problem in his Racing Point machine prevented him from setting a final hot lap. Williams driver George Russell will share the seventh row in 14th.
Sebastian Vettel qualified 15th after his crash at Turn 4. The German clipped the apex curb and spun backwards, sending his Ferrari into the barriers on the opposite side of the track and triggering a red flag to clean up the debris.
An early qualifying exit for Sebastian Vettel 😖
— Formula 1 (@F1) September 26, 2020
Romain Grosjean was half a second shy of qualifying for Q2, knocked out instead in 16th. He was only 0.002s quicker than Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, who will start 17th.
Kevin Magnussen will start 18th in the second Haas ahead of Williams rookie Nicholas Latifi, while Kimi Raikkonen will start last after a mistake at the second corner on his final flying lap.