Valtteri Bottas achieved his second Formula 1 pole position this season, leading a Mercedes lockout of the front row at Sochi.
Bottas held a tiny advantage over team-mate Lewis Hamilton of just 0.004 seconds after the first runs in Q1, with everyone using the hypersoft Pirellis.
But on the second Q3 run, Hamilton was forced to abort his lap after setting the fastest time in the opening sector thanks to running wide in the middle sector.
This gave Bottas a clear run to post a one minute, 31.387 seconds lap to take pole by 0.145 seconds.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel was third, 0.556s slower than Bottas, and admitted over the team radio that there was “one-and-a-half, two tenths, but not enough,” left in the car after making a small mistake.
Kimi Raikkonen had a difficult Q3, complaining on his first run that his set of tyres was not as good as the one used in the previous segment of qualifying, then failing to improve on is second run.
The top four will all start on ultrasoft Pirelli compound having used them to set their Q2 times, with the rest of the top six starting on hypersofts.
With Red Bull missing from Q3 thanks to grid penalties for engine part changes, meaning the team didn’t even attempt to run in Q2, Kevin Magnussen was best of the rest for Haas in fifth place, 1.794 seconds off pole.
That put him comfortably ahead of the Force India of Esteban Ocon, who shaded Sauber’s Charles Leclerc for sixth by just 0.006 seconds.
Sergio Perez was eighth, with Romain Grosjean ninth ahead of Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson.
Q2 was rendered an irrelevance because only ten cars ran, inevitably meaning they all reached the final segment of qualifying.
The Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo sat out the session because they will drop to the back with engine penalties, as will Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
Renault pairing Carlos Sainz Jr and Nico Hulkenberg also did not run because they are guaranteed to start P11 and P12 with a free tyre choice behind six midfield rivals who will all start on the hypersoft Pirellis.
All five of those who did not take to the track were classified in positions P11 to P15 based on their Q1 pace.
Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley was the fastest of those eliminated in Q1 in P16.
The former WEC champion, who will drop to the back thanks to Honda engine component changes earlier in the weekend, was unable to improve on his second run after backing off for the yellow flag caused by Sergey Sirotkin spinning his Williams at Turn 9.
Fernando Alonso was P17, almost half-a-second slower than Hartley.
Alonso also has engine-related grid penalties but is not due to start on the back row thanks to his car, driven by Lando Norris, being the first on track in FP1 of the five cars carrying penalties – which impacts the order of the five cars serving grid drops.
Sirotkin’s first-run time was good enough for P18 ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne, while Lance Stroll was slowest after also encountering yellow flags because of Sirotkin on his final lap.
So congratulations to Valtteri Bottas in scoring pole position at the Russian Grand Prix. This Sochi track suits the Mercedes so well and Bottas even achieved his first victory.
As for the championship fight, Lewis Hamilton is one position ahead of Sebastian Vettel. It’s going to be fascinating to see how the champs will do in the Russian Grand Prix.
Qualifying positions, Russian Grand Prix:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m31.387s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m31.532s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m31.943s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m32.237s
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m33.181s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m33.413s
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m33.419s
8 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m33.563s
9 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m33.704s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m35.196s
11 Carlos Sainz Renault –
12 Nico Hulkenberg Renault –
13 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m35.612s
14 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m35.977s
15 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m36.437s
16 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m35.504s
17 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault –
18 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda –
19 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m35.037s
20 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault –