Valtteri Bottas led a Mercedes front-row lockout in qualifying for the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix as the Silver Arrows dominated proceedings on Saturday afternoon.
The Finn, who has openly admitted to a loss of confidence given his recent poor form, beat championship-leading teammate Lewis Hamilton to pole position after the Englishman made a mistake on his final flying lap at the Sochi Autodrom.
Hamilton has been imperious at recent Grands Prix en route to extending his lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings to 40 points over arch-rival Sebastian Vettel, and his snap-oversteer moment under braking for Turn 7 showed that he too is capable of making mistakes under pressure.
Of major comfort will be the fact that this time it did not cost him any grid positions. Despite being quickest in Friday’s opening practice session, Ferrari has struggled to match the pace of the Mercedes’ and this trend continued into qualifying where the German was third-fastest and over half a second off Bottas’ pace.
Hamilton’s error should not detract from two superb qualifying laps from Bottas. While Hamilton was quickest in the two preceding knockout stages, Bottas delivered where it counted with two inch-perfect laps of the low-grip Sochi circuit. His first Q3 lap was just 0.004 seconds faster than Hamilton and he upped the ante on his second attempt. His 1:31.387 broke the lap record and while Hamilton’s first sector was quicker, he then made his error and aborted the lap.
Whether the two drivers will finish in that order on Sunday afternoon remains to be seen. Bottas is still mathematically in contention for the Drivers’ Championship title but in truth Mercedes already has its 2018 campaign centred around Hamilton, who has enjoyed better form and better luck.
Bottas was instructed not to challenge Hamilton for the race lead at the German Grand Prix in August and could well be forced to cede again to the Englishman to maximise his points’ yield.
Vettel starts from third place alongside teammate Kimi Räikkönen and will be pinning his hopes on being able to slipstream the silver cars on the long run from the starting grid. It’s a move Bottas managed from the same position last year that yielded him victory, but even then there is no guarantee that Vettel would be able to keep ahead of the Mercedes’, such is their sheer pace advantage this weekend.
On the ultra-smooth Sochi circuit that favours cars blessed with straight-line speed and nimbleness through its umpteen medium-speed corners, the Haas, Force India and Sauber runners completed the Q3 order. Kevin Magnussen led a tight ‘best of the rest’ scrap in Q3 ahead of Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc, Sergio Pérez and Romain Grosjean, with Marcus Ericsson completing the top-ten.
With five runners – both Red Bulls, both Toro Rossos and Fernando Alonso – taking grid penalties for engine changes, Q2 only saw ten runners in action with all making it into Q3. With the factory Renault team relatively uncompetitive by its standards, neither Carlos Sainz Jr or Nico Hülkenberg attempted a run, preferring to have a free choice of tyre compound on which to start the race.
The Red Bull Racing pair of Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo took the same path in Q2 and elected to save tyres, as did Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
The opening phase of qualifying provided no major surprises as the off-the-pace McLarens and Williams pairings took an early bath, along with the second Toro Rosso of Brendon Hartley.
|FORMULA 1 2018 VTB RUSSIAN GRAND PRIX – QUALIFYING RESULTS|
|Q3 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap|
|1.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:31.387|
|2.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||1:31.532||+ 0.145|
|3.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:31.943||+ 0.556|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||1:32.237||+ 0.850|
|5.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:33.181||+1.794|
|6.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:33.413||+ 2.026|
|7.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:33.419||+ 2.032|
|8.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||1:33.563||+ 2.176|
|9.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||1:33.704||+ 2.317|
|10.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||1:35.196||+ 3.809|
|Q2 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap**|
|11.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||no time|
|12.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||no time|
|13.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||no time|
|14.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||no time|
|15.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||no time|
|Q1 Qualifiers||Team / Entry||Time||Gap*|
|16.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||1:35.037||+ 2.627|
|17.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:35.504||+ 3.094|
|18.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:35.612||+ 3.202|
|19.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||1:35.977||+ 3.567|
|20.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||1:36.437||+ 4.027|
* Denotes gap to the fastest Q1 time of 1:32.595 posted by Lewis Hamilton
** Denotes gap to the fastest Q2 time of 1:32.410 posted by Lewis Hamilton
- Alonso, Ricciardo, Hartley, Verstappen and Gasly required to start from the back of the grid for use of additional power unit elements. Verstappen and Ricciardo drop an additional 5 grid places for unscheduled gearbox changes. Verstappen drops a further 3 places for a yellow flag infringement in qualifying.
Image via Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport