SOCHI (Russia) • Finland's Valtteri Bottas took pole position yesterday for the Russian Grand Prix, with Mercedes teammate and Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton having to settle for second place on today's starting grid.
Hamilton's Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel, who is 40 points behind (281 to 241) with six races to go in the battle of the four-time world champions, will start third.
This was Bottas' sixth career pole and his second this season after claiming the top spot in Austria, and his first at the Black Sea circuit.
It was also another very strong performance by him at a circuit where he has some form. The 29-year-old took his first F1 win here last season, was third for Williams in 2014, fourth in 2016 and would have claimed third in 2015 but for a late clumsy lunge by fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen.
He said: "It was a nice lap in the end (that) I was able to improve on it. It feels good, takes some concentration, I'm still shaking.
"I'm really happy but it's only the first step in this weekend."
His 1min 31.387sec, another new track record, reflected a commanding performance.
RUSSIAN GP GRID
1 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari 4 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari
5 Kevin Magnussen (Den) Haas 6 Esteban Ocon (Fra) Force India
7 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber 8 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India
9 Romain Grosjean (Fra) Haas 10 Marcus Ericsson (Swe) Sauber
16 * Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull
17 * Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull * After grid penalties. Final grid order to be finalised today.
He was over a tenth in front of Hamilton,who had to abort his final hot lap after an error. Of concern to Ferrari, however, will be the vast gap in qualifying pace, with Vettel five-tenths behind.
"He's driven brilliantly this weekend and he just did a better job," said Hamilton, who was fastest in the first two parts of the session and looked set for a career 80th pole until he went wide at Turn 7.
"My last two laps of Q3 weren't great - you can't always have it - but we're still in contention for tomorrow," added the Briton, who will be chasing his eighth win of the campaign.
Mercedes have always performed well at Sochi, unbeaten since the circuit made its F1 debut in 2014 and their car once again proved well-suited to the medium-speed corners that define the track.
Hamilton had topped a one-two with Bottas in second practice and in the final session yesterday morning where they had looked ominously strong.
Ferrari had been off the pace, sixth-tenths down in FP3, unable to find the performance improvement in the final session they usually enjoy.
Vettel, who had led an all-Ferrari front row in Russia last year with Bottas third, hoped to see the tables turn today.
"I just spoke to Valtteri and reminded him what happened last year so maybe we can turn that around this time," the German said.
"I messed up in the last sector. It was at Turn 15 and I think there were one-and-half or two-tenths lost, but not enough," he added.
"The car felt all right so that makes me happy. If there is a gap we will go for it."
The two Red Bulls did not qualify for the top 10, knowing they face engine penalties that will mean they start today's race from the back of the grid along with both Toro Rosso cars and Fernando Alonso's McLaren.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN
RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX
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