Lando Norris took a shock maiden Formula 1 pole position in an exciting Qualifying session at the Sochi Autodrom as the track dried enough to get some dry tyre running in Q3.
The McLaren F1 Team driver made the most of the conditions and confidence behind the wheel to grab top spot, with his former team-mate Carlos Sainz Jr. joining him on the front row as Lewis Hamilton spun on his one and only attempt on slicks.
Q1 – Usual Suspects Drop Out… and Verstappen
Max Verstappen knew going into the weekend that he will be starting at the back of the grid for the Russian Grand Prix after his Red Bull Racing team changed his power unit to a new specification Honda engine, and the Dutchman only completed one lap before calling it a day.
In a session that saw the Sochi track continue to dry but a session that needed intermediate tyres throughout, Verstappen was joined in the drop zone by the two Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN’s of Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi, and the two Uralkali Haas F1 Team cars of Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin.
Räikkönen was sixteenth fastest, missing out on a Q2 appearance by more than seven-tenths of a second, while team-mate Giovinazzi, who secured top ten starts in the Dutch and Italian Grands Prix, was only eighteenth after an early spin at turn sixteen.
Schumacher will split the two Alfa Romeo’s in the leading of the Haas cars, while Mazepin, racing in front of his home crowd for the first time as a Formula 1 driver this weekend, was slowest of anyone who completed a flying lap, ending nineteenth, more than seven and a half seconds down on the best time of the session, which was set by Lewis Hamilton.
Q2 – Vettel & AlphaTauri Suffer
Times continued to tumble in Q2, and after feeling he had done enough, Sebastian Vettel was eliminated for the Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team, the German missing out on Q3 by 0.052 seconds.
Also missing out on Q3 were the two Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda drivers, Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda. Gasly, one of the stars of 2021 to date, was perhaps the surprise drop out of the session, with the Frenchman visibly angry after the chequered flag after feeling he was baulked during the session that cost him the chance of making it through.
Tsunoda also encountered traffic but was just over a tenth down on his team-mate in thirteenth, while neither Nicholas Latifi nor Charles Leclerc set a lap time as both will take grid penalties for engine changes on Sunday and will be starting at the back of the grid regardless.
Once again it was Hamilton who led the way in Q2, with his time of 1:45.129 beating his Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team team-mate Valtteri Bottas by 0.177 seconds. However, the track was drying out…
Q3 – Norris, Sainz and Russell star as Slicks Prove Beneficial
Everyone left the pit lane on the intermediates for the final segment of Qualifying, but with a dry line appearing, George Russell jumped into the pit lane to switch to a set of soft Pirelli slick tyres, with the Williams Racing driver giving himself the chance of completing two runs on them as a result of the early switch.
Everyone else decided to do a banker lap on the intermediates, but when sector times for Russell began to improve, everyone dived into the pit lane for slick tyres. Unfortunately for Hamilton, he pushed too hard entering the pit lane and damaged his front win against the pit wall!
The times began to tumble as the drivers found their groove on the slick tyres, but when the chequered flag fell, it was Norris who took pole position with an immense lap of 1:41.993, more than half a second ahead of his closest rival.
His closest rival was his former McLaren team-mate Sainz, who put his Scuderia Ferrari car onto the front row for the first time in his career. And completing the top three was… George Russell. The benefit of getting heat into his tyres with the additional laps proved invaluable, and he was able to put his car onto the second row of the grid.
Joining Russell on the second row will be Hamilton, but the Mercedes’ best time was set on the intermediate tyres early on. He was able to re-join the track after his pit lane incident, but the seven-time World Champion was unable to get the heat into his tyres and he eventually ended his session with a spin at turn sixteen.
Daniel Ricciardo made it a good day for McLaren with the fifth fastest time, just ahead of Alpine F1 Team’s Fernando Alonso, while the second Mercedes of Bottas could only manage seventh after being delayed by his team-mates pit lane crash early on and only getting one flying lap on the slicks.
Lance Stroll put his Aston Martin into eighth, while Sergio Pérez will be disappointed to finish only ninth in the second Red Bull, ahead only of Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in Q3.
However, no one could deny Norris his maiden pole position, and the Briton will lead away a jumbled-up grid on Sunday with the championship contenders fourth and last.
Sochi Autodrom Qualifying Result
|1||4||Lando Norris||ITA||McLaren F1 Team||1:47.238||1:45.827||1:41.993||23|
|2||55||Carlos Sainz Jr.||ESP||Scuderia Ferrari||1:47.924||1:46.521||1:42.510||25|
|3||63||George Russell||GBR||Williams Racing||1:48.303||1:46.435||1:42.983||26|
|4||44||Lewis Hamilton||GBR||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team||1:45.992||1:45.129||1:44.050||24|
|5||3||Daniel Ricciardo||AUS||McLaren F1 Team||1:48.345||1:46.361||1:44.156||23|
|6||14||Fernando Alonso||ESP||Alpine F1 Team||1:47.877||1:45.514||1:44.204||25|
|7||77||Valtteri Bottas||FIN||Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team||1:46.396||1:45.306||1:44.710||24|
|8||18||Lance Stroll||CAN||Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team||1:48.322||1:46.360||1:44.956||23|
|9||11||Sergio Pérez||MEX||Red Bull Racing||1:46.455||1:45.834||1:45.337||24|
|10||31||Esteban Ocon||FRA||Alpine F1 Team||1:48.099||1:46.070||1:45.865||25|
|11||5||Sebastian Vettel||GER||Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team||1:47.205||1:46.573||18|
|12||10||Pierre Gasly||FRA||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||1:47.828||1:46.641||18|
|13||22||Yuki Tsunoda||JAP||Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda||1:48.854||1:46.751||20|
|14||6||Nicholas Latifi||CAN||Williams Racing||1:48.252||No Time||12|
|15||16||Charles Leclerc||MON||Scuderia Ferrari||1:48.470||No Time||10|
|16||7||Kimi Räikkönen||FIN||Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN||1:49.586||10|
|17||47||Mick Schumacher||GER||Uralkali Haas F1 Team||1:49.830||10|
|18||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||ITA||Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN||1:51.023||9|
|19||9||Nikita Mazepin||RUS||Uralkali Haas F1 Team||1:53.764||10|
|20||33||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull Racing||No Time||2|