Norris achieves his first pole position for McLaren at Sochi

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

6 thoughts to “Norris achieves his first pole position for McLaren at Sochi”

  1. Russian Grand Prix qualifying review as reported by

    Fresh from the team’s first one-two in over a decade at the Italian Grand Prix last time out, McLaren’s Lando Norris has claimed pole position for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix, overcoming damp conditions at the Sochi Autodrom to take a shock P1, with the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and the Williams of George Russell rounding out a surprise top three.

    With heavy rain on Saturday morning having seen Free Practice 3 cancelled, qualifying marked the first Saturday track action for the F1 drivers. But with the fastest laps on Q1 and Q2 having been set on intermediate tyres, a drying Sochi track prompted a late move to slicks in Q3.

    And it was ultimately Norris who strung a lap together to claim his first ever career pole position, and McLaren’s first pole since 2012, winding up 0.517s up on second-placed finisher Sainz, as Russell also starred for Williams to take P3, for his second top-three start in four races.

    Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was on provisional pole going into the final laps of Q3. But the seven-time champion then hit the pit wall as he came in to change for slicks, before failing to improve as he spun on his last lap, claiming P4.

    Monza winner Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for McLaren, ahead of the Alpine of Fernando Alonso, as the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas claimed P7 – an upset for Mercedes, who took a one-two in every session and segment leading up to Q3 – with Lance Stroll P8 for Aston Martin, ahead of Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.

    Meanwhile, with a back-of-the-grid start for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, Max Verstappen opted not to set a lap in qualifying. He’ll be joined at the back of the pack on Sunday by Charles leclerc and Nicholas Latifi, who will both be hit with penalties for changing power units.

    So the story just keeps getting better for McLaren – but what can Lando Norris and the team achieve in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix?

    Q1 – Hamilton fastest as Giovinazzi spins, while Verstappen opts not to set a time

    With the rain holding off as qualifying got under way, every driver bar Fernando Alonso headed out onto the track on intermediate tyres, Alonso opting to initially sample the conditions on full wets, before switching to inters.

    The teams’ engineers were nervously scanning the skies for signs of rain, though, with the Sochi Autodrom busy early on in Q1 as all the drivers tried to secure banker laps in case the heavens opened.

    All the drivers, that is, bar Red Bull’s Max Verstappen, who with a back-of-the-grid start to come after taking on a fourth power unit, chose to complete just two installation laps before boxing to preserve his Red Bull RB16B, with no time set by the Dutchman.

    The rain held off though, and with the track (and the drivers’ confidence) improving in the final moments of the session, Hamilton put in a storming final lap to go fastest with a 1m 45.992s, 0.404s clear of team mate Bottas.

    With Verstappen’s penalty, Red Bull needed Sergio Perez to be up there with the Mercedes, and the Mexican showed well early on in qualifying, overcoming a Turn 2 spin to take P3, just behind Bottas and ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel in fourth and Norris in fifth in the McLaren.

    Back after a Covid-enforced two-race lay-off, Kimi Raikkonen couldn’t make it out of Q1, taking P16, joined in the drop zone by team mate Antonio Giovinazzi, who spun early on and was nearly collected by Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari before ending up P18 – the Alfa Romeos split by an impressive showing from Haas’ Mick Schumacher in 17th.

    Local driver Nikita Mazepin was P19, with the time-less Verstappen the other driver out in Q1, as the Williams pair both made it through to Q2, Nicholas Latifi taking 10th, one place ahead of George Russell.

    Knocked out: Raikkonen, Schumacher, Giovinazzi, Mazepin, Verstappen

    Q2 – Hamilton fastest again as Russell books spot in final part of qualifying

    Mercedes rolled their dominance into Q2, with Hamilton once again setting the pace on inters, posting a 1m 45.129s to head Bottas by 0.177s, as Alonso did well to take P3, just 0.385s off Hamilton’s time – with Alonso’s Alpine team mate Esteban Ocon backing up the Spaniard by claiming fifth.

    Two drivers out in Q2 were Latifi and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with both set to start from the back of the grid after power unit changes, meaning they opted not to set laps – Williams having discovered a pneumatic issue on Latifi’s car on Friday night.

    They were joined in the knock-out zone by the AlphaTauris of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda in P12 and P13, Gasly expressing his displeasure on team radio after feeling he’d been blocked at one point – before going on to criticise his team for failing to put him out on new intermediates.

    Vettel was perhaps the biggest shock, however, the fourth-placed finisher from Q1 ending up P11, having lapped just 0.052s shy of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in P10 – leaving Vettel spouting expletives over team radio.

    Both McLarens made it through to Q3, meanwhile, Norris taking P4 to Monza winner Daniel Ricciardo’s P8 – while George Russell opted to use an extra set of inter tyres to bag his own Q3 berth in P9.

    Knocked out: Vettel, Gasly, Tsunoda, Latifi, Leclerc

    Q3 – Norris claims stunning maiden pole after late switch to slicks

    With the rain failing to appear as the final segment of qualifying dawned, the drivers once again headed out on intermediates for the first flying laps in Q3, with Hamilton once again initially setting the pace with a 1m 44.050s.

    But then George Russell instructed his team to prepare his slick tyres, with the rest of the field following suit as they all dived in for soft tyres. Hamilton’s dive was over-eager, though, with the seven-time champion hitting the pit entry wall and damaging his front wing, forcing Mercedes to lose time as they changed it.

    With Hamilton finally able to re-join the track, he then radioed in to complain of not being able to get heat into his tyres. Initially, however, it had looked as though the move to slicks might have been the wrong one, with few drivers improving on their first laps on the softs.

    But then Norris started lighting up the timing screens, eventually stopping the clocks with a 1m 41.993s – putting him 2.057s clear of Hamilton’s initial provisional pole time, as the McLaren garage erupted. Other drivers were improving too, with Sainz winding up P2, 0.517s off his former team mate Norris – while Russell went P3, to follow up his own sensational P2 from the Belgian Grand Prix for Williams, setting up one of the most incredible top threes we’ve seen in recent times in qualifying.

    Hamilton wasn’t amongst that top three, spinning a few corners from the end on his final run to compound a rough finish to qualifying, but having done enough on the inters to end up P4, ahead of Italian Grand Prix winner Ricciardo in fifth, with Alonso sixth.

    The Spaniard managed to finish ahead of Bottas, who’d been forced to wait in the pit lane as Mercedes struggled to fix Hamilton’s front wing, with Bottas also failing to improve on slicks as he took seventh. Stroll was eighth, as Sergio Perez was another driver not to improve on softs, ending up a disappointing ninth, ahead of Ocon.

    But there was no doubt who the ultimate star of the day was, with Norris claiming McLaren’s first pole position since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix – a pole taken that day at Interlagos by none other than Lewis Hamilton…

  2. McLaren driver Lando Norris admitted he ‘risked quite a bit’ on his lap to take a surprise Russian Grand Prix pole position. has the news story.

    Lando Norris says he “risked quite a bit” in his final lap to take his maiden Formula 1 pole position in a “manic” qualifying session for the Russian Grand Prix.

    Two weeks after its surprise 1-2 finish at Monza, McLaren scored its first pole since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix as Norris topped Q3 with a late run on slick tyres in Sochi.

    Norris took pole by over half a second ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr after a switch from intermediate to slick tyres paid off on his final lap of the session.

    “It feels amazing, I don’t know what to say,” Norris said in parc ferme after qualifying.

    “It was quite a manic session. We were going well, and obviously we made the decision in the end to go slicks.

    “You don’t think you’re going to get a pole until you get it and now I’ve managed to do it so yeah, extremely happy.

    “Big thanks to the team as well, they’ve done an amazing job.”

    Qualifying was able to go ahead after a break in the heavy rain that forced final practice to be abandoned, but the track remained damp until the closing stages of Q3, allowing drivers to make the switch to intermediates.

    Norris admitted it was “tough” to keep the car under control in the greasy conditions, but focused on keeping his tyres in the right window for his final lap of the session.

    “I’m obviously going to make myself sound good, but it was tricky,” Norris said.

    “It was that crossover section and the lap before I was like, two seconds down, and I wasn’t very confident we were going to improve on the previous lap.

    “But I kept the tyres warm and prepared the final lap, and I risked quite a bit, I’m going to admit, and it paid off, so I’m a happy boy.”

    McLaren had been downplaying the chances of it continuing its Monza form in Sochi this weekend, with Norris even noting after taking pole that it was a surprising result to him and the team.

    “I guess coming off of Monza this is not something we really expected, but these kinds of conditions are when we can take opportunities,” Norris said.

    “That’s exactly what we did today, so especially after Monza, this is an awesome way to start, and hopefully we can continue it again tomorrow.”

  3. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton feels “terrible” over two crashes in Sochi qualifying. has the details.

    Lewis Hamilton says he feels “terrible” and “incredibly disappointed in myself” after hitting the wall twice during Formula 1 qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday.

    Hamilton topped both Q1 and Q2 for Mercedes in Sochi, and was the quickest driver on intermediates in Q3 before cars came in to switch to slick tyres.

    As Hamilton came in to make the change, he clipped the wall at pit entry, leaving his Mercedes car with front wing damage and in need of a new one to be fitted.

    While Hamilton was able to eventually get back out after moving aside for teammate Valtteri Bottas in the pits, he struggled to get his slick tyres up to temperature, spinning into the wall in the final sector on his last lap.

    Despite the mistakes, Hamilton still qualified fourth with his initial time on intermediates, having seen Lando Norris, Carlos Sainz and George Russell all jump ahead on slicks.

    Speaking to Sky Sports in the pen after qualifying, Hamilton admitted the incident at pit entry was “just a mistake from myself” and not down to his cold tyres.

    “Ultimately I’m incredibly disappointed in myself,” Hamilton said.

    “Up until then, I was in a groove, I was really in the zone. I’m really sorry for all the team that are here and back at the factory, because obviously that’s not what you expect from a champion.

    “It is what it is, and I’ll do my best tomorrow to try and rectify it.”

    Hamilton added that the grip levels were “horrible” as he tried to get temperature into his slick tyres upon returning to the track, making the circuit feel “very slippery”.

    “I was losing temperature in the lap, and then twice in the wall, that’s very rare for me,” Hamilton said.

    Mercedes will be able to replace any broken parts on Hamilton’s car ahead of tomorrow’s race without taking a penalty so long as they are the same specification.

    Despite missing out on pole, the seven-time world champion will be looking to capitalise on the fact that title rival Max Verstappen will start last after a penalty for power unit changes.

    “The guys up front have got good pace, and it definitely won’t be easy,” Hamilton said.

    “I’m just going to say my prayers and hope that the car can be fixed, and it’s hopefully OK for tomorrow.

    “These things are sent to try us, and I feel terrible right now. But I’ll turn it into a positive, and try to do the best. But you’ve got a Brit on pole, which is great, so congrats to Lando.”

  4. Mr Saturday aka George Russell is aiming for Russia Formula 1 podium with “slippery” Williams after qualifying an excellent third position. has the news story.

    George Russell thinks the straightline speed potential from his ‘slippery’ Williams means his sights are set on a podium finish in Formula 1’s Russian Grand Prix.

    The Briton made the most of a switch to slick tyres in Q3 at Sochi to grab third spot on the grid for tomorrow’s race behind Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz.

    And, while he is aware that there are some super fast cars behind him – including Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, plus the Red Bull of Sergio Perez – he thinks the potential is there to cause a further upset.

    Having been classified second in the abandoned wet race in Belgium, and with Williams holding a comfortable gap over nearest rival Alfa Romeo in the standings, Russell thinks there is nothing to lose in fighting for everything he has got.

    “I’m really looking forward to it,” he said when asked about his thoughts for the race.

    “Yesterday our high fuel pace was one of our best of the year. It’s still a long way behind these guys [Norris and Sainz] and the Mercedes who are starting behind us, so we’re going to have a battle on our hands.

    “But we are pretty slippery on the straight, and have some nice straightline speed. So yeah, we’ve got to go for the podium again. It’s nothing to lose.”

    Russell was the first driver to switch to slicks on the damp but drying track in Sochi, with other drivers copying his lead in the closing minutes of Q3.

    But having pulled off another shock performance, on the back of his second place on the grid at Spa-Francorchamps when it was also wet in qualifying, he was overjoyed at the way that Williams keeps on surprising.

    “It is crazy,” he said. “It’s the second time in the top three in three events, so the team have done an amazing job once again.

    “We pitted at the right time, putting the right tyres on. But it was tricky out there. There’s one dry line and, if you were just a couple of centimetres too wide, you will have been on the wet stuff and you will have been off.”

  5. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly was left feeling angry and rues the “big mistake” on Sochi Formula 1 qualifying inter tyre call. has the full details.

    Pierre Gasly says he was left angry after his Q2 exit in qualifying for Formula 1’s Russian Grand Prix because of a ‘big mistake’ his team made on tyre choice.

    The Frenchman had looked very quick in the early stages of qualifying, but it all went wrong in the closing moments of Q2 when he dropped down the order as rivals improved their times after they had pitted for fresh inters.

    Having stuck with an old set of inters, despite making a request to the team to switch, Gasly was seen furiously banging his halo in the cockpit as he found out he hadn’t made it into Q3. He will start 12th on the grid.

    Speaking afterwards, Gasly reckoned it had been a huge error not to have moved on to fresh rubber.

    “We had the pace to be in Q3 easily,” he said, when asked by what had gone wrong in Q2. “The car was very fast in these conditions, and then in Q2, we stayed out on track on one set, which was completely used.

    “I asked to box because I could see the track was drying. But we didn’t do it, and it was a big mistake and it cost us Q3.

    “At the moment, I don’t really understand why we did that. Clearly we paid a big price because, when you see what happened in Q3, it’s just a very big missed opportunity and I knew it.”

    Gasly said his annoyance was immediate because he knew just how much he could have improved if he had been on new inters.

    “I felt the potential,” he said. “The last two laps, I was just all over the place, and I could see the laptime.

    “We were missing it for one tenth, and I think 1.5 seconds faster was possible with new tyres. I knew already in Q1 that we had huge potential in these conditions to do well. So when we qualify so far back with such a potential, it gets me mad.”

    And while Gasly lost a quick lap when he was held up by traffic, he says that being blocked was not the factor that scuppered his chances.

    “There was a bit of traffic there, but in the end it wasn’t the problem,” he said. “The problem is we should have boxed and we didn’t do it.

    “What’s happened before or after, it’s always a bit messy in these conditions. But in the end, it’s not the reason why we didn’t make it through.”

  6. Williams driver George Russell says he was “almost crashing” in the Sochi pitlane after becoming the first Q3 driver to take slicks in wet-dry Russian Grand Prix Formula 1 qualifying.

    Russell led the top 10 shootout runners in moving from the intermediates all drivers had used in Q1 and Q2 to the soft slick compound with six minutes of Q3 remaining.

    He explained how the rest of his fourth Q3 appearance of 2021 had gone in the post-qualifying press conference at Sochi, where he finished behind pole winner Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz.

    Russell said: “I came on the radio to say to the guys, ‘let’s get the slicks ready because it’s definitely going to go slicks’.

    “And they replied saying ‘let’s box this lap’. So, I though they may have misunderstood what I meant by that radio comment.

    “But I’d said we’ve got to go for it in these sessions – high risk, high reward. Especially in these conditions.

    “And when I came out of the pitlane on the slicks [I was] almost crashing straight out of the box.

    “And I was only that last lap [where the time came]. I kept getting a little bit of traffic here and there, [which meant] I couldn’t complete the lap and that was a bit frustrating.

    “But, as it was for everybody, I knew that last lap was going to be the killer lap. So we saved it all for then and here we are. A bit surreal that it’s our second top three in four races now.”

    Russell’s Sochi Saturday result followed his second place in wet qualifying at Spa, which became his first F1 podium in the controversially abandoned ‘race’ that followed the next day.

    When asked to compare his emotions after qualifying at the two events, Russell said: “Certainly different.

    “Equally happy, for sure, and P3 is an incredible position to start – it’s a really long run into Turn 2.

    “We’re pretty slippery on the straights and hopefully Lando will give me a nice little slipstream into Turn 1.

    “Definitely really happy. We’ve been scoring points now three in the last four.

    “There’s no reason we can’t keep on going. We’ve got to be aiming for the podium – we’ve got nothing to lose and we’ve just got to go for it.”


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