Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel claimed Scuderia Ferrari’s first pole position of the 2017 Formula 1 season, as both he and team-mate Kimi Raikkonen defeated the Mercedes drivers in a competitive Russian Grand Prix qualifying battle.
Ferrari had led the way throughout the three practice sessions, but trailed rival Mercedes through Q1 and Q2, when both Vettel and Raikkonen made an extra run compared to Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in the latter segment.
And yet Scuderia turned things around in Q3, when Raikkonen sat on provisional pole after the initial runs, just ahead of Bottas and Vettel, with Hamilton trailing in fourth position after twice snatching the inside front brake on his hot lap.
The Iceman looked set to claim his first pole since the French Grand Prix of 2008, which was coincidently the last race Ferrari locked out the front row, but went wide at the final corner on his last lap so failed to improve.
That allowed Sebastian to snatch pole by just 0.059 seconds with a last-gasp effort of one minute, 33.194 seconds.
Bottas also failed to find time on his final qualifying run, but his earlier lap was still good enough for third position on the grid, just 0.036 seconds adrift of Raikkonen – albeit slower than he went in Q2.
Hamilton’s first run in Q3 was compromised by a track position with Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault. Hamilton improved on his final run, but dropped a lot of time in the final sector and ended up almost half a second slower than his team-mate Bottas.
Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for Red Bull, but over a second slower than Hamilton, while Felipe Massa scored a sixth for Williams, just 0.051 seconds ahead of Max Verstappen.
Hulkenberg was eighth for Renault, just over a tenth further back, while the Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon completed the top ten.
Both Force Indias made Q3 for the first time this season, with Ocon claiming the final spot in the top ten shootout by 0.219 seconds from the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz, who complained of a “very strange” lack of grip on his final set of tyres.
The Williams of Lance Stroll split Sainz from his Toro Rosso team-mate Daniil Kvyat, as all three drivers lapped within 0.020 seconds of each other.
Kevin Magnussen’s Haas was less than half a tenth further back inP14, well clear of the underpowered McLaren-Honda of Fernando Alonso, who maintained his remarkable record of getting McLaren-Honda into Q2 at every race so far this season.
Renault’s Jolyon Palmer missed the cut by less than a tenth, but had already failed to improve on his final run before crashing heavily at Turn 4 after clipping the inside kerb.
Stoffel Vandoorne, who will start last after a grid penalty, found time on his final run but it was nowhere near enough to escape Q1. His time was only P17 fastest and six tenths away from the Q2 cut off.
Pascal Wehrlein was P18 for Sauber and was lucky to survive a spin unscathed at Turn 13 at the end of Q1.
Team-mate Marcus Ericsson was just under two tenths further back, while Romain Grosjean’s Haas brought up the rear of the grid.
Grosjean struggled with the brakes and balance of his car throughout free practice, and was also unhappy at the start of qualifying, but was on a better lap before Palmer’s crash.
So a fantastic result for Ferrari after so many countless Grands Prix. An all-red front row thanks to the talent of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. It’s going to be interesting to see who will win the Scuderia battle on race day at Sochi. Game on.
Qualifying positions, Russian Grand Prix:
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m33.194s
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m33.253s
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m33.289s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m33.767s
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault 1m34.905s
6 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m35.110s
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m35.161s
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m35.285s
9 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m35.337s
10 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m35.430s
11 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m35.964s
12 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Renault 1m35.968s
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m36.017s
14 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Renault 1m35.948s
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m36.660s
16 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m36.462s
17 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.332s
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m37.507s
19 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m37.620s
20 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Honda 1m37.070s*
*Grid penalty for changing power unit