Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Räikkönen have ended Ferrari’s 18-month qualifying drought by securing a front-row lockout – incidentally the team’s first since 2008 – in a tense qualifying session for the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix.

With the red cars proving quickest across all three practice sessions at the Sochi Autodrom, expectations were high that the team could finally end its absence from pole position that has stretched to the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix.

Such was their confidence, both Vettel and Räikkönen were the only drivers to run the Super Soft tyres in the opening phase of qualifying. The pair comfortably made it through to the next phase, with the Mercedes’ of Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton needing to bolt on the Ultra Soft tyres to guarantee they would face no threat from the midfield. As it was, the Silver Arrows drivers claimed a notional 1-2.

A repeat result in the second phase of qualifying would be as good as it got for the Brackley team, as the Ferraris pulled out all stops in Q3. Räikkönen was quickest of all on his first run with a smooth 1:33.253 and threatened to claim his first pole position since the 2008 French Grand Prix.

The pressure would be on for the second runs, and this time it was Vettel who nipped through to claim pole by less than six-hundredths of a second. Räikkönen could well have claimed pole position were it not for over-cooking it through the final corner.

Narrowly behind the two was Valtteri Bottas, who maintained his record of qualifying third-fastest at every Russian Grand Prix. The Finn was less than one-tenth of a second off Vettel’s ultimate pace in the final reckoning.

By contrast, it was an untidy qualifying session for Hamilton, a distant fourth-fastest by almost 0.6 seconds. The Englishman’s set-up did not seem to his liking, and he once again had to work hard to keep his twitchy F1W08 on the road.

A whopping 1.7 seconds off the pace, Daniel Ricciardo was fifth-fastest in his Red Bull Racing RB13 while Williams’ Felipe Massa pulled out all stops to get in front of Max Verstappen and push the Dutchman off the third-row lockout many had expected the team to get.

Nico Hulkenberg was eighth-fastest in another impressive showing for Renault, while the Mercedes-powered Force India duo of Sergio Pérez and Esteban Ocon completed the top-ten.

Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr narrowly missed out on making it into Q3, but the Spaniard will take a three-place grid penalty stemming from his collision with Lance Stroll at the preceding Grand Prix in Bahrain.

Stroll will take Sainz’s grid position as a result, having wrestled his oversteering Williams to edge out Daniil Kvyat by four-thousandths of a second. Kevin Magnussen’s Haas and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren completed the order among the Q2 runners, with the latter describing his qualifying performance as “nearly perfect” as his public criticism of Honda’s lack of horsepower continued.

The bottom five qualifiers were hardly a surprise. Fresh from his Renault mechanics assembling a brand new chassis for him to use for the remainder of the weekend, Jolyon Palmer will ensure his crew has another late night after damaging the front and rear of his RS17 when he crashed out in the final minutes of Q1.

In a pure demonstration of desperate driving that underscored his lack of time behind the wheel this weekend, the Briton took far too much kerb at Turn 4, pitching the car into a slide that he couldn’t catch in time.

His crash triggered the double-waved yellow flags, guaranteeing that the second McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne – who is facing a 15-place grid drop for an umpteenth power unit element change – along with the two Saubers of Pascal Wehrlein and Marcus Ericsson, and Haas’ Romain Grosjean would remain at the bottom of the time sheets.

After qualifying inside the top-ten a fortnight ago in Bahrain, it was a major crash to earth for Grosjean. The Frenchman’s miserable weekend continued with another frustratingly off-the-pace showing that saw him slowest of all.

Sunday’s 53-lap Russian Grand Prix will start at 15:00 local time (GMT +3).

Q3 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap Tyre
1. Sebastian Vettel de Scuderia Ferrari SF70H 1:33.194
2. Kimi Räikkönen fi Scuderia Ferrari SF70H 1:33.253 + 0.059
3. Valtteri Bottas fi Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08 1:33.289 + 0.095
4. Lewis Hamilton uk Mercedes AMG Petronas F1W08 1:33.767 + 0.573
5. Daniel Ricciardo au Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13 1:34.905 + 1.711
6. Felipe Massa br Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40 1:35.110 + 1.916
7. Max Verstappen nl Red Bull Racing Tag Heuer RB13 1:35.161 + 1.967
8. Nico Hülkenberg de Renault Sport F1 Team RS17 1:35.285 + 2.091
18. Sergio Pérez Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10 1:35.337 + 2.143
14. Esteban Ocon fr Sahara Force India Mercedes VJM10 1:35.430 + 2.236
Q2 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap** Tyre
11. Carlos Sainz Jr^ es Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12 1:35.948 + 2.684
12. Lance Stroll ca Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW40 1:35.964 + 2.700
13. Daniil Kvyat ru Scuderia Toro Rosso Renault STR12 1:35.968 + 2.704
14. Kevin Magnussen dk Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17 1:36.017 + 2.753
15. Fernando Alonso es McLaren-Honda MP4-31 1:36.660 + 3.396
Q1 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap* Tyre
16. Jolyon Palmer Renault Sport F1 Team RS17 1:36.462 + 2.421
17. Stoffel Vandoorne^ McLaren-Honda MP4-31 1:37.070 + 3.029
18. Pascal Wehrlein de Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36 1:37.332 + 3.291
19. Marcus Ericsson se Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C36 1:37.507 + 3.466
20. Romain Grosjean fr Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-17 1:37.620 + 3.579

* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 time of 1:34.041 posted by Valtteri Bottas
** Denotes gap to fastest Q2 time of 1:33.264 posted by Valtteri Bottas

^Post-Qualifying Penalties:

  • Carlos Sainz Jr – who provisionally qualified 11th-fastest – will serve a 3-place grid penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Lance Stroll during the Bahrain Grand Prix
  • Stoffel Vandoorne – who provisionally qualified 17th-fastest – will serve a 15-place grid penalty for exceeding his use of allowed power unit elements

Image via Scuderia Ferrari

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.