Mclaren F1 Team’s Lando Norris claimed his first ever pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after Mclaren timed the crossover point from intermediates to slicks with perfection at the Sochi Autodrom. It was also Mclaren’s first pole since 2012.
With Free Practice Three being cancelled due to a heavy downpour resulting in no medical helicopter, qualifying begun on a very damp track. Drivers ventured out predominantly on the green intermediate tyre, Fernando Alonso was the sole driver to begin on the full wets. For Qualifying One and Two, intermediates was the correct option with the track surface taking a long time to dry.
Qualifying Three however was frantic, with Mclaren, Scuderia Ferrari and Williams Racing judging the all important crossover point from intermediates to the red soft tyre with perfection. This resulted in a top three of Norris, Carlos Sainz Jr and George Russell for Sunday’s race.
An important factor for Sunday’s race is that every driver will get free choice of tyre, after all Qualifying Two times were set on the intermediates.
Looking ahead to the race where the weather forecast still isn’t certain, if it’s a full dry race then a one-stop is the most likely strategy, unless there is a safety car or any other incident which could allow for a change of tyre. The preferred option for a dry race would be to start on the medium C4 tyre and switch to the hard C3, however the likes of Verstappen starting at the back may start on the C3 and run deep into the race.
Pirelli’s Head of F1 and Car Racing Mario Isola made the point that the crossover was difficult to judge due to the low-grip surface, and that there could be a variety of strategies on Sunday.
“Qualifying was tricky, with a low-grip surface that took a long time to dry and made it difficult to determine the crossover point, until right at the end of Q3 when it was finally dry enough for slicks. Tomorrow’s conditions look set to be dry, meaning that teams will have to rely on the data accumulated on Friday, with one session less of running compared to usual.
“All drivers will have a free choice of tyres at the start, which means that they should be able to run the optimal one-stop strategy. With some fast drivers starting from the back, who might try something different, plus a slightly different top three on the grid, it should be a very intriguing race.”