Lando Norris took a stunning first pole position at the Russian Grand Prix as he beat Carlos Sainz and George Russell on a wet track using slick tires.
After heavy rain washed out the rest of Saturday’s running, qualifying took place after the rain stopped and the track slowly dried, allowing drivers to gamble on slick tires for their final runs. Russell was first onto slicks just ahead of Norris and Sainz, and it proved crucial as it gave them the time to find grip.
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Mercedes had dominated earlier on but then were late making the call to switch to slicks due to the risks involved, and the conditions were only exemplified by Lewis Hamilton sliding into the wall at the pit entry and damaging his front wing. His team had to push his car out of the way to allow Valtteri Bottas to fit slicks before sending Hamilton back out, and as neither driver could do more than one timed lap they failed to improve.
Hamilton will still start from fourth place after his intermediate tire pace was so strong, but it represents a missed opportunity at this stage with Max Verstappen starting from the back of the grid.
Daniel Ricciardo will start from fifth ahead of Fernando Alonso, Bottas, Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.
Previously slicks had looked unlikely, with the track taking a long time to dry. As the surface continued to improve but remain wet, the gamble in Q2 was whether teams wanted to use an extra set of intermediates to try and advance. Russell used that approach to his advantage but Aston Martin opted not to and Sebastian Vettel was frustrated to be eliminated in 11th place by just 0.05s.
There was a bit of a surprise as Pierre Gasly also dropped out in 12th — complaining of being impeded by a Williams late in the session — ahead of teammate Yuki Tsunoda in 13th. A new power unit for Nicholas Latifi was announced at the end of Q1 after Williams found a pneumatic problem overnight, and he and Charles Leclerc both didn’t set times in Q2 as they will start from the back of the grid.
FP3 was canceled earlier in the day due to torrential rain, but conditions improved rapidly and the qualifying session was not only able to start at the scheduled time but the initial running took place on intermediate tires.
While Verstappen completed just two laps before ending his session immediately due to his back of the grid start for a power unit penalty, the rest of the field continued to circulate to try and make the most of the conditions. There were few incidents early on, with Antonio Giovinazzi spinning out of Turn 16 and Leclerc having to take avoiding action behind him.
That proved costly for Giovinazzi who ended up eliminated in 18th place ahead of only Nikita Mazepin and Verstappen. It was both Haas and Alfa Romeo drivers knocked out, with Kimi Raikkonen’s return only good enough for 16th and Mick Schumacher splitting the two Alfas in 17th.