Hamilton schools Verstappen and Bottas for Russian GP pole

Valtteri Bottas does not qualify to shine Lewis Hamilton’s shoes.  Period.

Hamilton put his #44 Mercedes on pole for the Russian GP at Sochi with a lap of 1m31.304 s, a massive 0.652s faster than teammate Bottas in the identical car, which was only good for 3rd on the grid.

Max Verstappen stunned the Mercedes team by beating Bottas – ending up 0.563s behind Hamilton.

In Q3 after the first runs, Hamilton was on top with a 1m31.391s, while Bottas was choking 0.793s back.

The Finn did improve on his final run but was still 0.5s behind even before Hamilton completed his final lap. Hamilton then went even faster to set a new track record of 1m31.304s. It was his first pole in Sochi since 2014.

Verstappen nailed the final sector on his last lap to join Hamilton on the front row.

Max Verstappen 2nd quick

Hamilton almost missed making it into Q3 after Sebastian Vettel caused a red flag late in Q2 when he crashed into the barriers with 2m 15s on the clock. Hamilton got a lap in with a second to spare to make it through to Q3.

Replays show the German lost the rear, bounced over the curbs and into the barriers on the exit of Turn 4. And his teammate Leclerc came very, very close to collecting him…

Vettel wadded up his Ferrari

Both Ferraris failed to make it out of Q2.

Sergio Perez in the Racing Point and Daniel Ricciardo in the Renault rounded out the top-5.

Strategy for Sunday

While a one-stopper is set to be chosen by most drivers tomorrow, there is a wide variety of strategic permutations using all three compounds.

Only the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas will start on the medium compound in the top 10 of the grid, from second and third. The cars immediately behind them – as well as Hamilton on pole – will be on the faster soft tire.

Second place on the grid is reckoned to be a cleaner line, which could help Verstappen get in front of Hamilton tomorrow and claim a subsequent advantage on his different strategy.

Sergio Perez


Lewis Hamilton
That was one of the toughest Qualifying sessions I can remember, proper heart in your mouth the whole way. But I feel super grateful for everyone keeping their cool as it could have been a lot, lot worse. Q2 was hugely challenging, my first attempt was taken away for going over the track limits at the final corner. The team brought me in for refueling and to fit new tires but when I was on my second lap, the red flag came out. After that, it was very close to still get that final lap in – I overtook a few cars in the last sector but then lost time behind a Renault. I just heard Bono say ‘go, go, go’, so I was gunning it to get across the line. There was so much going on and I had to just calm down and find my center. Valtteri had been strong all weekend, so I had no choice but to deliver with those final Q3 laps. The first lap in the final session was really great, and I thought it would be difficult to improve, but I managed to find a tiny bit on the second lap. It’s nice to take pole position, but this track is probably the worst place to be on pole, due to the long run to the first braking zone. So, I’m expecting a tough fight down to Turn 2 and a challenging race, especially as I’m starting on the Soft tire, which is a good compound for the race start but is the worst tire for the opening stint. We’ll sit down tonight and figure out the best approach to the race.

Lewis Hamilton – LAT Images

Valtteri Bottas
It was looking pretty good for me, I felt like I had the pace through Q1 and Q2, and both of those sessions went nice and smoothly. But Q3 was a tricky one. I felt like I found some gains but clearly the others found more. On the first run in Q3 the tires were a bit too cold, so out of the last corner I had a big snap and was already a few tenths down on the run to Turn 2. I was waiting for the second run and that lap felt better, there weren’t really any mistakes so I’m not sure why I couldn’t get closer to pole. There are some question marks there, which we’ll need to look into in the debrief and figure out why there was such a gap. But P3 is actually a pretty good place to start here and I think I’m on the right tire as well. I’ve started third here before and look what happened, so I’ll try and do the same. It’s still all to play for.

Bottas demoralized

Toto Wolff, Mercedes Team Boss
Sometimes, it’s the tracks where we perform well in practice, that prove to be the most difficult in Qualifying and the race. That happened today, with a very challenging Qualifying session. We had a very strong care, but almost stumbled over a red flag. I think we had the racing gods on our side, that we were able to make it into Q3. It’s always impressive how Lewis manages to put it all together, even if adversity is being thrown at him. He did a fantastic job to secure pole position. On Valtteri’s side, we need to investigate what happened, because he had a very strong Friday, but FP3 went against him. The changes he’d made to the car for Qualifying seemed to be right, but then he lost some performance in Q3. The gap doesn’t do him justice, so we need to look into what happened. But we’re looking forward to an exciting race, with both drivers starting on different tire compounds and a long run to Turn 2. Let’s see how it all plays out.

Andrew Shovlin Mercedes
We had the pace today to get the cars on the front row with both starting on Medium tires so it’s a bit disappointing to have Lewis starting the race on Soft and Valtteri in third. The wind changed going into Qualifying and it was quite gusty which made it more difficult to put the laps together. The first session wasn’t the cleanest for us, but both cars got through ok. The second session was really where things started to get complicated. Valtteri did a decent first lap on the Medium, but the track was improving quickly, and we had to take a second set to make sure we covered further track evolution. Lewis did a very quick first lap, but ran a bit wide at the final corner so his time was deleted. We didn’t have enough fuel in the car to do another lap, so had no choice but to box. We sent Lewis early on another Medium tire, and he was on a good lap going into the penultimate corner when the red flag came out for Sebastien’s crash, which was simply unfortunate timing. The focus then shifted to just making sure we got Lewis through to Q3: We knew the out lap would be a mess given that there was only two minutes and 15 seconds on the clock, but he was just able to cross the line before the flag and despite traffic, managed to get a lap together. Q3 was a bit more straight forward although Valtteri struggled to get the tires in the right window and unfortunately got pipped by Max on the final run. Lewis did a couple of really impressive laps, but rather than celebrating another pole position, I think he’ll be thinking that he’d happily swap it for a Medium tire of the line tomorrow. So, it wasn’t the perfect preparation for tomorrow, but we’ve still got a chance for either of our cars to win and it should make the race very exciting.

“P2 was very unexpected and I don’t say this often but I think this was one of my best ever qualifying laps and it felt really good. I was struggling a bit in Q1 and Q2 with the balance of the car and we made some small improvements to stabilise everything and in Q3, especially on the second run, they worked and the lap was good. Of course we want to fight for pole and wins but this year it is not possible all the time, so then to be able to split the two Mercedes cars is very satisfying and I’m happy to be on the front row here. I’m starting on the dirty side of the grid which does make a difference with the initial launch but I’m also on the medium tire which is the best way for us. If we can have a decent start, the tow effect is very big so who knows what can happen into Turn Two. I think the Mercedes does still have more overall pace so they will be hard to beat but I’m happy with today and I think we really extracted more than we thought was possible and we can be very happy with that.”

“I’m not too sure what happened with Q3 so we need tonight to sit down and look at it with the engineers. Q1 and Q2 felt ok and then everyone just seemed to make a jump in Q3 whereas we didn’t. It didn’t feel like we had much left in the car and my laps didn’t feel bad so there’s a bit of head scratching going on. You can tidy up some things here and there to find a couple of tenths maybe but obviously the gap is quite big today so it’s confusing and we have work to do. There was a bit of spinning and track limits going on which I think was because the wind changed quite a lot from FP3 to qualifying so some people were getting caught out. We’ll do our homework tonight so we have a better day tomorrow. It’s a long run to Turn One and anything can happen so let’s see what we can do.”

CHRISTIAN HORNER, Red Bull Team Principal
“We certainly didn’t expect to be on the front row coming into the weekend as Sochi has always been one of our weaker tracks, so it is very satisfying to be able to split the two Mercedes today. Max played it very smart in the final lap of Q3. He waited for Bottas to finish his lap and then got a tow from him all the way down from Turn One to Turn Two, meaning he was already a tenth up at the exit of Turn Two. He then had to get the rest of the lap spot on, which he did and P2 was a phenomenal result with arguably one of the best laps he’s driven this season. Alex did a good job to get himself comfortably into Q3 and then unfortunately he was just at the wrong end of the group at the end of the session. It was so tight out there that a couple of tenths would have made things look very different for him, but we have a good race car and we all know he can overtake, so we will definitely see some action from him tomorrow.”

Qualifying Results

1 Lewis Hamilton GBR Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team 1m 32.983 1m 32.835 1m 31.304
2 Max Verstappen NED Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 1m 33.630 1m 33.157 1m 31.867
3 Valtteri Bottas FIN Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team 1m 32.656 1m 32.405 1m 31.956
4 Sergio Perez MEX BWT Racing Point F1 Team 1m 33.704 1m 33.038 1m 32.317
5 Daniel Ricciardo AUS Renault F1 Team 1m 33.650 1m 32.218 1m 32.364
6 Carlos Sainz Jr. ESP McLaren F1 Team 1m 33.967 1m 32.757 1m 32.550
7 Esteban Ocon FRA Renault F1 Team 1m 33.557 1m 33.196 1m 32.624
8 Lando Norris GBR McLaren F1 Team 1m 33.804 1m 33.081 1m 32.847
9 Pierre Gasly FRA Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda 1m 33.734 1m 33.139 1m 33.000
10 Alexander Albon THA Aston Martin Red Bull Racing 1m 33.919 1m 33.153 1m 33.008
11 Charles Leclerc MON Scuderia Ferrari 1m 34.071 1m 33.239
12 Daniil Kvyat RUS Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda 1m 33.511 1m 33.249
13 Lance Stroll CAN BWT Racing Point F1 Team 1m 33.852 1m 33.364
14 George Russell GBR Williams Racing 1m 34.020 1m 33.583
15 Sebastian Vettel GER Scuderia Ferrari 1m 34.134 1m 33.609
16 Romain Grosjean FRA Haas F1 Team 1m 34.592
17 Antonio Giovinazzi ITA Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen 1m 34.592
18 Kevin Magnussen DEN Haas F1 Team 1m 34.681
19 Nicholas Latifi CAN Williams Racing 1m 35.066
20 Kimi Raikkonen FIN Alfa Romeo Racing Orlen 1m 35.267