Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport‘s Lewis Hamilton stands as the man to beat in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix after setting the fastest time in Free Practice 3 in Sochi.
Hamilton recorded the fastest ever lap around the Sochi Autodrom with a time of 1 minute 33.067 seconds, over a tenth quicker than Sebastian Vettel‘s pole position time at the race last year, ensuring that he keeps the advantage he gained in Free Practice 2 yesterday afternoon.
Similarly to yesterday, his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas stood second, two-tenths back, with Vettel exactly six tenths away in third for Scuderia Ferrari; all times set on the hyper-soft compound.
Ferrari held the upper hand in the early stages of the session. On their first runs, Vettel showed Kimi Räikkönen the way – his first run 1.2 seconds faster than the Finn’s opening offer. Whilst Hamilton was readying himself to get into the car, Bottas led the charge for Mercedes and split the Ferraris. Moments later, the 2017 Russian Grand Prix winner pipped Vettel’s benchmark by less than a tenth.
Hamilton’s first time was good enough for third, just a fraction over a tenth away from Bottas. His follow-ups were more emphatic, moving clear of the field by two-tenths just before the halfway stage of the session. The Brit then stretched his advantage to six-tenths soon after, edging towards Vettel’s pole position time 17 months ago.
Vettel struggled to respond, running wide numerous times on his next flying lap and hurting his hyper-soft tyres. Bottas suffered no such problems, retaking the lead from Hamilton’s possession by a tenth.
The last quarter of the session saw a flurry of action. Hamilton simultaneously started and ended the late battle to top the session. His record-breaking – for now – 1:33.067 could not be beaten by any of the three serious challengers. Bottas and Vettel failed to improve and peeled into the pits, as Räikkönen moved to within eight-hundredths of his Ferrari team-mate’s time.
Ferrari were left red-faced as the session drew to a close, Vettel forced to hit the brakes and abandon his car at the end of the pitlane as it closed before he could attempt a practice start.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing lagged in fifth and sixth. Both Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo face grid penalties for engine component changes that will send them to the back of the grid, but a gap averaging around a second to the ultimate pace may cause concern.
Charles Leclerc was one of the stars of the session, ending up in seventh for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team, seemingly resolving the balance issues that plagued his Friday. Just behind him, came the Racing Point Force India F1 Team car of Esteban Ocon. The Haas F1 Team‘s Kevin Magnussen and Ocon’s team-mate, Sergio Pérez, rounded out the top ten.
[table id=3469 /]