After scoring his best result in the previous race at Monza with second, Lando Norris achieved his first pole position at the Russian Grand Prix. The late, changing conditions in wet-to-dry qualifying caught out Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton.
The McLaren driver will be joined on the front row by his good friend, Carlos Sainz, while George Russell continues to impressive with a solid third for Williams. The Mercedes drivers will line up fourth and seventh, with Hamilton ahead of practice pacesetter Valtteri Bottas.
After FP3 was cancelled by torrential rain in the morning at Sochi, qualifying was able to take as the rain eased ahead of the session’s scheduled starting time.
In the first two segments, which Hamilton came out on top quickest, the track remained wet enough for intermediates to be used throughout, but a dry line had just about emerged when Q3 began.
The shootout runners initially all headed out on the inters, with Hamilton posting the fastest time on that compound at one minute, 44.050 seconds and Norris slotting in just behind as the drivers completed their banker laps.
Russell and Williams were the first to commit to slicks, but did not post times that threatened those set on inters on until right at the end of Q3.
By this point all the other top ten runners had switched to the softs as well, but when Mercedes called Hamilton – who was set to improve his personal best on the inters before backing off to pit – and Bottas in, there was drama when the world champion tapped the wall coming through the tight pit entry lane inside the final corner.
Hamilton’s front wing had to be changed and his suspension checked, with Mercedes pushing him out of the way so Valtteri’s tyres could be changed and the Finn wasn’t unduly held up.
But that left both Black Arrows drivers with little time to build the necessary tyre temperature and they could not match the improvements made by the drivers that had switched to slicks earlier.
Hamilton then spun at Turn 16 on his solo flying lap on the softs, which meant he was shuffled down by the top three.
Sainz initially claimed provisional pole with a one minute, 42.510 seconds, but Norris beat him in the second and third sectors to claim a first Formula 1 career pole on a one minute, 41.993 seconds.
Russell finally found enough time to leap up from P10 to slot in ahead of his future Mercedes teammate, with Daniel Ricciardo taking fifth behind Hamilton.
Then came Fernando Alonso and Bottas, with Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon rounding out the top ten.
Ricciardo and Stroll have been called to see the stewards after qualifying to investigate an incident between the pair in Q1.
At the end of Q2, Williams pitting Russell to take a fourth set of inters (since the start of qualifying) paid off as he was able to set a series of personal bests that meant he jumped into the top ten with his final lap in the middle segment.
This knocked out Sebastian Vettel, who was not on a flying lap when the chequered flag came out, as he missed the cut behind Sainz by 0.052 seconds.
Then came the AlphaTauri pair Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, with the former equalling his worst ‘normal’ qualifying position of the season in P12.
Nicholas Latifi had been given a fourth new engine of the season ahead of qualifying after a pneumatic problem was discovered on his previous power unit after Friday practice, which means he will join Charles Leclerc and Verstappen in starting at the rear of the field.
That meant that after progressing from Q1 along with Leclerc, Latifi only came out to complete two sectors early in the Q2 – and then again at the end of the session – and pitted without setting a time.
This means he will start the race ahead of Leclerc, who did not come out at all in Q2.
In Q1, Gasly headed a long queue of cars ready to hit the track as soon as the session began, the teams keen to get early times on the board in case the rain returned, with Alonso the only driver sent out on the full wets.
The times tumbled by six seconds as the track dried throughout the opening segment, which Verstappen did not take full part in considering he is also set to start at the back of the grid thanks to his engine change penalty.
The Red Bull driver emerged to complete two sectors on a single exploratory lap, at the end of which he returned to the pits and climbed out.
The session, which featured two spins – one for Perez late-on at Turn 2 and one for Antonio Giovinazzi coming out of Turn 16 just in front of Leclerc in the early stages – ended with the majority of the midfield runners pitting ahead of the closing minutes to take fresh inters.
This combined with the drying track to mean the times continued to get quicker, with all the eliminated runners – bar Giovinazzi who had backed out by this stage – setting personal bests on their final flying laps at the chequered flag.
Kimi Raikkonen was knocked out in 16th ahead of Mick Schumacher and Giovinazzi, with Nikita Mazepin the slowest of the runners to set a time – his personal best nearly four seconds slower than his Haas teammate.
So a brilliant top 3 with Lando Norris scoring his first pole position in Formula 1. With Carlos Sainz taking an excellent second, lining up alongside his good friend on the front row. Future Mercedes star George Russell qualified in P3 ahead of Lewis Hamilton, who got caught out in the changeable conditions.
As for the championship leader, Max Verstappen. The Red Bull driver will start last following power unit changes and a grid penalty after his collision with Hamilton at Monza. Roll on race day at Sochi after an exciting qualifying session.
Russian Grand Prix, qualifying positions:
1 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1:41.993
2 Carlos Sainz Jr. Ferrari 1:42.510
3 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1:42.983
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.050
5 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1:44.156
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1:44.204
7 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:44.710
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:44.956
9 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1:45.337
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1:45.865
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1:46.573
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1:46.641
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1:46.751
14 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes No time
15 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:49.586
16 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1:49.830
17 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1:51.023
18 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1:53.764
19 Charles Leclerc Ferrari No time
20 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda No time