Sebastian Vettel stole pole position from his Ferrari teammate in the final lap of qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi Autodrom, and with it claim the Italian team’s first one-two on the grid in nearly a decade and with it ending Mercedes’ streak of top spot starts.
Vettel’s pole winning lap of 1:33.194 was good enough to edge Raikkonen’s time by just six hundredth of a second, coming just when it appeared that Mercedes had turned up the wick on their cars to counter the pace of the Ferrari duo.
Indeed both Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were quick in the first of the three sectors, but simply had no answer to the Ferraris in the last two sectors.
Vettel’s pole for Ferrari is the team’s first since 2015 in Singapore and it will the team’s first front row lock-out since the 2008 French Grand Prix.
Beaming from ear-to-ear, Vettel summed up his afternoon, “I had a good start to the session and was feeling reasonably comfortable. I lost a bit of rhythm in Q2 and then in Q3 the first run was not really tidy and I left it to the end. I knew it would be tight, I knew I would be the first one crossing the line. I got Valtteri’s time and he did not manage to improve and when I got the message I had got it I was over the moon.
“If you have a rhythm here it feels fantastic. I am glad I got it back. It is great to have both cars on the front row but it is only part of the job done. In qualifying Mercedes have been very, very strong. I am sure it will be very close tomorrow. Especially over the long run. We will see but for now are full, of joy. We are back, at least if you talk about the front row,” added Vettel.
Raikkonen, whose last pole was that one at the French Grand Prix nine years ago, came desperately close and said afterwards, “I got some traffic on the last set and it was a bit more tricky and I tried to get it back on the last corner but much happier than in previous qualifying. It is one for the team and not too bad.”
Thus the Reds ended Mercedes’ run of 18 successive pole positions and it is also the first time in 31 races that there will be no Silver Arrows on the front row for a grand prix. The balance of power appears to be shifting in Formula 1.
At the end of an engrossing session Bottas emerged third fastest, out-qualifying Hamilton for a second time in two races, the Briton almost half a second adrift of his teammate.
Nevertheless, on a sunny afternoon at Sochi it was decidedly close at the sharp end of proceedings, a mere tenth of a second separating the top three.
Bottas commented, “All weekend Ferrari have had the upper hand, but Sunday is always the day that counts.”
While at the front it’s desperately close, the gulf between the two pace setting teams and the rest was wider than ever, with fifth place going to Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull albeit 1.7 seconds shy of Vettel’s top time.
The Australian was a quarter of a second faster than teammate Max Verstappen who ended up seventh on the timing screens. Felipe Massa split the Red Bull pair to claim the sixth best time.
Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg was eighth, ahead of the the Force India pair of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon who rounded out the top ten.
Eleventh place went to Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, with Williams Lance Stroll 13th ahead of the second Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat in P13. The three were separated by just two hundredths of a second. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was the last man eliminated in Q2 in 15th.
Jolyon Palmer was 16th. The Renault driver crashed out at the end of Q1 when he caught too much of a kerb in Turn 4 and was pitched into the barriers.
He was eliminated ahead of McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne, the Saubers of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson and the second Haas of Romain Grosjean. Vandoore, though, will start from the back of the grid as he is due to take an engine-related grid penalty.
Russian Grand Prix, Sochi Autodrome – Qualifying, Best Lap Times
|5||3||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:35.560||1:35.483||1:34.905||20|
|7||33||RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER||1:35.301||1:35.221||1:35.161||18|
|9||11||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:36.185||1:35.513||1:35.337||18|
|10||31||FORCE INDIA MERCEDES||1:35.372||1:35.729||1:35.430||20|
Q1 107% time – 1:40.623