Championship leader Lewis Hamilton claimed pole position at Sochi despite the panic in not setting a Q2 lap following the crash of Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will start the Russian Grand Prix in second, beating Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.
Hamilton also faces a post-qualifying investigation for a track limits violation – along with Nicholas Latifi, Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen – in Q1, and is the only driver in the top three who will start the race on the soft Pirelli as a result of his Q2 near-miss.
In that session, where spots of rain were reported early on, Mercedes sent both of its cars out on the medium compound, as Red Bull did with Verstappen.
But both Hamilton and Bottas were forced to do second runs on the harder rubber as the former had his time deleted for a track limits violation at the final corner and the latter’s first effort was poor.
Bottas was then able set a time good enough to get him through to Q3, but Hamilton had to abort his second run when Vettel crashed at Turn 4 bringing out the red flag.
The Ferrari driver appeared to clip the kerb on the inside of the right hander and the rear quickly got away from him, spinning into the wall on the outside and knocking his front wing – which was struck by the closely following Leclerc – and his right front wheel.
When the session restarted, Mercedes sent Hamilton out on soft tyres, which means Bottas will start on the opposite strategy on the medium tyres along with Verstappen, who headed the pack urgently getting to the line to complete a final run with two minutes, 15 seconds on the clock after Vettel’s crash.
Verstappen was also running softs and looked to be improving on his previous Q2 best on the mediums, but he abandoned his run so he will take the start on the harder rubber, which is expected to be a better race tyre in what will be one-stop event.
Hamilton, who slide wide at Turn 2 on his out lap as he ran down the queue of cars desperately trying to make it into the top ten shootout, crossed the line with barely a second remaining on the clock.
But he was able race around and get through with the fourth fastest time in Q2, which was headed by Ricciardo, with the last lap set and knock out a frustrated Charles Leclerc as a result.
In Q3, Hamilton led the way with a one minute, 31.391 seconds, while Bottas had to close a 0.793 seconds gap after the opening runs in the final shootout.
Bottas did improve on his final run, despite clouting the kerb at the exit of Turn 2, but was still five tenths behind even before Hamilton completed his final lap – one minute, 31.304 seconds, which is a new track record and gives him his first pole in Sochi since 2014.
Verstappen set his final lap much later than the two Mercedes and was running fractionally behind Bottas in the opening two sectors before he surged ahead with a rapid final sector to join Hamilton on the front row.
Sergio Perez will start fourth ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz Jr, while Esteban Ocon, Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon rounded out the top ten.
Daniil Kvyat took P12 for AlphaTauri ahead of Lance Stroll, who was pushed out of the queue before the urgent final Q2 laps with a suspected issue, and George Russell and Vettel.
Russell set his sole lap in Q2 when he ran solo during a mid-session lull before Vettel’s crash and he went 0.5 seconds quicker than his Q1 time to make it out of the opening segment for the first time in three races.
In Q1, Russell’s last-gasp improvement to reach Q2 knocked out Romain Grosjean, who will start P16, as the Ferraris scraped through in P14 and P15 in the opening segment.
Antonio Giovinazzi ended up P17 ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Nicholas Latifi, who, along with Grosjean, went into the final Q1 runs without a time set after being among the group of runners – also including Hamilton, Gasly and Magnussen – who had their opening laps deleted for cutting the kerbs at Turn 2.
Kimi Raikkonen qualified last for the race where he will equal Rubens Barrichello’s record for most Formula 1 starts – assuming he takes the start on Sunday – after spinning on his full lap.
Raikkonen went into a 360 spin after striking the orange track limits deterrent kerb at the Turn 2 apex, which looped him around and he toured slowly around the inside of the ensuing long Turn 3 to avoid disrupting those cars following the Alfa Romeo.
So congratulations to Lewis Hamilton with this 96th career pole position. The opportunity to match Michael Schumacher’s 91 victories is possible by starting at the front of the pack. Bring on the Russian Grand Prix racing action.
Russian Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:31.304
2 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 1:31.867
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:31.956
4 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 1:32.317
5 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1:32.364
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren-Renault 1:32.550
7 Esteban Ocon Renault 1:32.624
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 1:32.847
9 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:33.000
10 Alex Albon Red Bull-Honda 1:33.008
11 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1:33.239
12 Daniil Kvyat AlphaTauri-Honda 1:33.249
13 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 1:33.364
14 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:33.583
15 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:33.609
16 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1:34.592
17 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:34.594
18 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1:34.681
19 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes 1:35.066
20 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:35.267