Sochi - Valtteri
Bottas upstaged his championship-leading Mercedes team-mate Lewis
Hamilton with a dazzling lap in Saturday’s qualifying session to seize
pole position for the Russian Grand Prix.
The Finn, who has struggled to keep pace with the defending four-time
champion for much of the season, relished the confines of one of his
favourite tracks as he clocked a record lap in 1:31.387.
His late fastest lap lifted him ahead of Hamilton, who aborted his
final lap after running wide at Turn Seven, and put a grin back on his
face as the Mercedes pair delivered another front row lockout.
It was his second pole this year and the sixth of his career.
"Alright guys, good job that," said Bottas, as he controlled his
feelings after the session.
"I’m really happy, but it’s only the first step this weekend. It’s a massively long run to Turn One from the start."
Bottas claimed his maiden Formula One victory in Russia last year and
showed a clear affinity with the track as Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari,
who trails Hamilton by 40 points in the title race, took third.
"I messed up in the last sector," said a downcast Vettel. "It was at
Turn 15 and I think there were one and half or two tenths lost, but not
"It was important to get as close as possible and it should have been closer, but not enough to be a threat."
Vettel said he had reminded Bottas of the start of last year’s race
when Bottas, from third, passed both Ferraris to take the lead and win.
"I just spoke to him so maybe we can turn that around this time," added
Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen wound up fourth ahead of Kevin
Magnussen of Haas, job-hunting Frenchman Esteban Ocon of Force India and
Ferrari-bound Charles Leclerc of Sauber.
Sergio Perez, in the second Force India, was eighth ahead of Romain
Grosjean in the second Haas and Marcus Ericsson in the second Sauber.
The two Red Bulls did not qualify for the top-10 shootout, knowing
they face engine penalties that will mean they start Sunday’s race from
the back of the grid along with both Toro Rosso cars and Fernando
On a bright blue-skied day by the Black Sea, Bottas began by setting
the early pace ahead of the Ferraris until Hamilton emerged to establish
his supremacy again, trimming his lap record, set in the morning’s
final practice session, to 1:32.410.
To the dismay of home fans in the crowd at the Sochi Autodrom,
Russia’s only representative, Serge Sirotkin, spun heavily and brushed
the barriers in the closing minutes in his Williams at Turn Nine.
This wrecked his hopes and left him exiting along with Brendon
Hartley of Toro Rosso, retirement-bound two-time champion Fernando
Alonso and his McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne, who sandwiched
Sirotkin in 18th, and last man Lance Stroll in the second Williams.
It meant that, not for the first time, two of the sport’s biggest and
most famous teams, multi-champions Williams and McLaren, had lost both
cars in the opening session.
Bottas and Hamilton continued to top the times early in Q2, both
taking the more durable ‘ultra-soft’ tyres, as did the two Ferraris, as
part of a plan for Sunday’s race strategy. After their opening runs, the
‘scarlet scuderia’ trailed by nearly half a second each.
Hamilton switched to ‘hyper-softs’ and was significantly quicker
before he aborted the lap, under instructions, to avoid being required
to start on those tyres.
The session, as a result, was relatively insipid as the two Red Bull
drivers, Pierre Gasly of Toro Rosso who faces a penalty, Marcus Ericsson
of Sauber and Nico Hulkenberg of Renault were eliminated without much
of a fight.