Bottas beats Hamilton in Mercedes-dominated qualifying

Russian Grand Prix: Valtteri Bottas (FIN) Mercedes AMG F1 celebrates his pole position in parc ferme.
© XPB 

Valtteri Bottas denied Lewis Hamilton his expected pole position in Sochi, with a brilliant performance in the final round of qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix.

Bottas's final round time of 1:31.387s was 0.145s faster than his team mate and was enough to give the Finn his sixth career pole position in Formula 1. The Mercedes pair were in a league of their own in the session, leaving Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen consigned to an all-Ferrari second row.

Although one of the fastest teams in qualifying, Red Bull will start at the back of the grid because of power upgrade penalties.

2018 Russian Grand Prix - Qualifying times

Pos Driver Team Q1 Q2 Q3
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:32.964s 1:32.744s 1:31.387s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:32.410s 1:32.595s 1:31.532s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:33.476s 1:33.045s 1:31.943s
4 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari 1:33.341s 1:33.065s 1:32.237s
5 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:34.078s 1:33.747s 1:33.181s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:34.290s 1:33.596s 1:33.413s
7 Charles Leclerc Sauber 1:33.924s 1:33.488s 1:33.419s
8 Sergio Pérez Force India 1:34.084s 1:33.923s 1:33.563s
9 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:34.022s 1:33.517s 1:33.704s
10 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:34.170s 1:33.995s 1:35.196s
11 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:33.048s
12 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:33.247s
13 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 1:34.383s
14 Carlos Sainz Renault 1:34.626s
15 Nico Hülkenberg Renault 1:34.655s
16 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 1:35.037s
17 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:35.504s
18 Sergey Sirotkin Williams 1:35.612s
19 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:35.977s
20 Lance Stroll Williams 1:36.437s

Broadly blue skies over the Sochi Autodrom circuit allowed the sun to raise the track temperature nicely ahead of the start of qualifying, with Mercedes looking favourites to dominate and Ferrari struggling to match their rivals for raw pace.

Q1: Mercedes in charge as McLaren and Williams eliminated

First out on track sporting hypersoft tyres were the two Williams of Lance Stroll and local favourite Sergey Sirotkin, together with Haas' Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean. Toro Rosso were also quick to take to the track even though both Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley know that they will be starting from the back of the grid due to power unit penalties.

First honours went to Magnussen who set the initial flying lap time of 1:34.078s, which remained top until Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel made his first tour which clocked in a full half a second faster than the Haas. Kimi Raikkonen duly took up the shotgun position moments later, which he swiftly upgraded with his next effort putting a tenth ahead of his team mate.

Mercedes bided their time before emerging from pit lane, but then got straight to work with Valtteri Bottas going top with a fearsome first effort of 1:33.170s. Lewis Hamilton looked set to go even faster before coming up on slower cars in the final sector which forced him to back off and left him only 10th fastest.

The Briton continued to circulate and finally went top with the first sub-1:33s lap ever seen at Sochi, ultimately ending up hald a second ahead of the latest improved lap from Bottas and almost a full a second faster than both Ferraris, confirming Mercedes' performance advantage that had developed over the previous practice sessions.

Saddled with grid penalties of their own, Red Bull left it late before showing up to the party. When they did, they proved a point with Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo going into the charts with a bullet in third and fourth place respectively, both of them comfortably ahead of the two Ferraris.

Sauber's Charles Leclerc ended up best of the rest, a tenth faster than the two Haas cars of Grosjean and Magnussen who were themselves a couple of tenths faster than the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon.

The two Renaults of Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg narrowly avoided elimination. On the other side of the cut line, Brendon Hartley missed out on Q2 after suffering from vibrations. Also out were the two McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne who had been off the pace all weekend.

Both Williams likewise failed to progress, Sirotkin ending the session with a brief spin although he was able to gather the FW41 up and get going again after sparking a brief period of local waved yellow flags.

Q2: Tyre strategies and grid penalties dominate second round

The main challenge for the top teams in the second round was to set their fastest laps on the slightly slower ultrasoft compound without risking their place in Q3, as these would then be the set of tyres they would start Sunday's race on.

Even on the slightly harder compound, Hamilton was able to punch in a flying lap of 1:32.595s which was 0.149s faster than Bottas. Vettel and Raikkonen settled into third and fourth, after which there was a big gap back to Leclerc, Grosjean, Ocon, Magnussen, Perez and Marcus Ericsson after their first runs.

Penalty-hit Red Bull decided to save tyres and engine wear by sitting out this round, as did Gasly in the Toro Rosso. Surprisingly, the Renault team also concluded that there was no real chance of their progressing into Q3, and so they too opted to sit out the round which gives them a free choice of tyres for the start of the race.

With the identity of the five cars in the drop zone now known, it was a surprise to see anyone out again, let alone Mercedes and Ferrari. They opted to come out to play on hypersofts, Hamilton coming perilously close to bettering his earlier time. He was seven tenths up at one point before easing off dramatically in the final sector to ensure the team's tyre strategy for tomorrow remained in place.

Q3: Bottas snatches pole ahead of Hamilton in all-Mercedes battle

Nine cars were quick to head out on track for the final round top-ten pole shoot-out, with only Ericsson opting to hold back. Ocon was the first man to set a time, but Bottas punched in a lap that was almost a full two seconds faster. That was too hot for even Hamilton, who was four thousandths of a second off the Finn's powerful performance, which was circuit Bottas had won at in 2017.

The rest of the field simply wasn't in it: Vettel was over six tenths off the pace off the two Mercedes, with Raikkonen a little further back in fourth. Ocon narrowly held on to the 'best of the rest' spot by 0.006s ahead of an inspired Leclerc, followed some way back by Magnussen, Perez and Grosjean.

There was time for everyone to make one more run, and the key question was whether Hamilton would be able to find the extra time needed to pip his team mate to the top spot. The Briton had a substantial advantage in the first sector, but it disappeared in the second as he struggled through turn 7: while Bottas extended his advantage at the top to 1:31.387s, Hamilton aborted his final effort and pulled into pit lane instead.

Despite this last minute upset, Hamilton's front row spot was never at risk. There was nothing that the rest of the field could do about the Silver Arrows' advantage, with Vettel maintaining third from Raikkonen.

A late charge put Magnussen up to fifth ahead of the closely-matched Ocon and Leclerc, with Perez in eighth ahead of Grosjean and Ericsson.

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