After much uncertainty, qualifying for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix was given the go-ahead in Sochi, in wet conditions, it was Lando Norris who stunned all to take pole against all expectations.
It was Lando’s day and he wasn’t going to be denied his first pole as he delivered a stunning performance on a day where everyone expected Mercedes to dominate. Lando’s time of 1:41:993 was enough for pole.
McLaren driver Norris said afterwards: “Oh boy. It feels amazing. Manic session. We made the decision to go slicks, you never think you will get pole until you get it. Extremely happy, big thanks to the team. They have done an amazing job.
“It was tough. I am going to make myself sound good but it was tricky. The lap before I was two seconds down and I was not confident we would improve. I kept the tyres warm, I risked quite a bit but it paid off.
“We are in the best position we can be in. I am happy, it is my first pole position and hopefully the first of many.”
With a rapidly drying track, pole-sitter Norris was followed by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in the second half a second off the pace. Sainz held provisional pole before Norris relegated him to second, while third went to the impressive George Russell almost a second off the top time.
Sainz said of his afternoon: “Very tricky. Right from beginning it was a tricky qualifying. After Q2 I could see there was a chance slicks would come into play. A good lap on the limit.
“This weekend we are looking a bit strong. Probably our weakest conditions were on the inters. There are the two Mercedes and the Red Bulls who we expect to be much quicker tomorrow but we will put up a fight.
“I need to make sure I do my homework overnight to make sure we don’t lose too much on the line on the dirty side.”
Russell took advantage of the drying track, and wrestled the Williams to third and said afterwards: “It is crazy. Second time in the top three in three or four events, the team have done an amazing job. It was tricky out there, there was just one dry line and were you one centimetre off you’d have been on the wet stuff.
“I am really looking forward to it. Yesterday our high fuel pace was the best of the year. We will have a battle on our hands but we have to go for the podium again. Nothing to lose.”
Russell’s performance was a strong indicator of what Lewis Hamilton should expect next year, the seven-time champion settling for fourth after a moment with the wall entering the pits for a tyre change before the final run, breaking his front wing.
Consequently, he didn’t have enough time to put enough heat into his softs and ended up spinning on his final lap.
Daniel Ricciardo was always playing catch up ending up only fifth, and over 2 seconds off the pace of his high flying teammate. A sobering weekend for the Aussie after his heroics at Monza.
Fernando Alonso continued his run of Q3 appearances, and out his Alpine in sixth place out-qualifying Esteban Ocon by more than 1.5s. Ocon was tenth.
Sochi expert Valtteri Bottas failed to deliver on the promise of his early form in Russia and ended up seventh 2.7s off pole. He was followed by Lance Stroll in the Aston Martin who was a decent eighth.
Sergio Perez continued to struggle, on a day where he was expected to take the fight to the Mercedes duo in the absence of his penalty-hit teammate Max Verstappen. He was ninth 3.344s off Norris’s time.
The conditions kept evolving for Q2, with the intermediates being the tyres of choice. AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly led the pack out of the pits, with Charles Leclerc not running, due to his engine-related grid penalties. Leclerc was joined by Williams’ Nicolas Latifi who didn’t set a time either at it was announced that, he as well, has taken up a new power unit and will be hit with the consequent grid penalty.
The Mercedes duo set the pace in Q2, with Hamilton leading Bottas, with Alonso and Norris chasing them, as Russell delivered another great performance to enter Q3 in conditions he usually excels in.
First of the retirees was Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel whose initial time wasn’t good enough, as times continued to improve, and had to settle for 11th. A disappointing result as he missed the final cut by 0.086s only, on a day where the German showed good pace.
Gasly was gutted as well to be in 12th as he failed to reach Q3, as he didn’t have enough time to make a final run, as all the other drivers where improving their times on an improving track. He was over one tenth off Sainz’s time who barely made it into Q3.
Yuki Tsunoda was closer to his teammate this time around and at least made it our of Q1 and one tenth off his teammate’s time.
No major surprises here, as the usual suspects failed to make it through to Q2, with the exception of Max Verstappen who opted not to run, as he was doomed to start the race from the back of the grid, for using one power unit more than his season’s allocation.
Other than that, after recently recovered from Covid-19, Kimi Raikkonen was in 16th place , out-qualifying his teammate Antonio Giovinazzi who ended up 18th and 1.5s off his teammate’s pace.
Raikkonen was followed by Haas’ Mick Schumacher in 17th, with the German rookie out-qualifying Nikita Mazepin who was 19th almost 4s off Schumacher’s pace, and only ahead of Verstappen who didn’t do a timed lap.