Valtteri Bottas has beaten teammate Lewis Hamilton to pole in a dominant Mercedes front-row lockout at the Russian Grand Prix.
The Finn has never been outqualified by a teammate in Sochi, but Q3 was the first session he led all weekend, shading Hamilton by just 0.004 seconds after their first runs and extending that gap to 0.145 seconds after the Briton made an error on their second runs.
“It was nice lap,” said Bottas. “But it’s only the first step this weekend.
“It’s a massively long run from the start line to turn one, so it’s going to be important to try and keep position [in the race].”
Hamilton, who happily congratulated his teammate on his second pole of the season, conceded he couldn’t string together a perfect lap.
“It was intense, as it always is,” said the Briton. “My last two laps were not special, but you can’t always get it right—but at least we’re still in the fight for the race tomorrow.”
But arguably the more significant story was Ferrari’s lack of pace compared to Mercedes. Championship contender Sebastian Vettel, who must beat Hamilton to victory in Russia to keep control of his title campaign, was more than half a second off Bottas’s pace, with teammate Kimi Raikkonen even further back.
The German lamented that he was never in contention for pole.
“Obviously I was important to get as close as possible to [Mercedes], but it’s true they’re very quick,” he said. “I think it should’ve been a bit closer, but not enough to be a threat.”
With Raikkonen in fourth and Red Bull Racing’s duo penalised and starting from the back, Kevin Magnussen was able to secure fifth place on the grid at the head of the midfield.
The Dane, freshly confirmed on a two-year contract with Haas from 2019, was more than 0.2 seconds quicker than Force India’s Esteban Ocon.
Sauber’s Charles Leclerc was just 0.006 seconds further adrift, with Sergio Perez in the second Force India following.
Romain Grosjean qualified ninth in the sister Haas car ahead of Marcus Ericsson’s Sauber in 10th.
Only 10 drivers chose to set a lap in Q2, meaning all 10 qualified for the Q3 top-10 shootout.
The situation was triggered by the penalty-affected Daniel Ricciardo, Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly, all three of whom opted not to leave their garages given no lap time would prevent them from starting from their penalised grid spots in 17th to 19th respectively.
The knock-on effect was that Renault drivers Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg also chose not to set laps given neither was likely to progress to the next session but would automatically start from 11th and 12th after the application of penalties.
Brendon Hartley was under renewed pressure ahead of qualifying to outperform Red Bull Racing-bound teammate Pierre Gasly, with Helmut Marko setting that as the bar for the Kiwi to keep his seat. He couldn’t manage it, however, losing more than half a second to the Frenchman and eliminating himself in Q1.
But even Hartley managed to set a quicker time than McLaren’s Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard said ahead of the weekend that the Sochi Autodrom would allow his struggling English team to demonstrate its true performance, but the prodigious world champion was still half a second slower than the slowest Toro Rosso.
Both Hartley and Alonso, however, carry grid penalties for exceeding their power unit part allocations, dropping the former to the back of the grid and, bizarrely, promoting the latter to 16th.
Home crowd favourite Sergey Sirotkin spun his Williams car on the way to the 18th-fastest time ahead of Stoffel Vandoorne in 19th and Lance Stroll in 20th, though the three will start from places 13 to 15 after taking penalties into account.