Charles Leclerc has broken the Mercedes stronghold of the Sochi Autodrom to claim Scuderia Ferrari’s first Russian Grand Prix pole position.

The two-time race winner continued his sizzling form delivering a 1:31.801 on his final lap in Q3 to finish four-tenths of a second clear of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and will start from the front for the fourth consecutive time this season.

Leclerc’s Scuderia Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel was unable to improve on his 1:32.053 lap and will line up on the second row of the grid in P3.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen showed good pace and claimed the fourth-fastest time in Russia, though he will be demoted to ninth after his five-place grid penalty is applied for engine component changes.

Verstappen was the only Red Bull in Q3 after Alexander Albon crashed out in Q1 when he spun at the slow-speed Turn 13 before slamming backwards into the barriers.

Albon sustained damage to the rear of his Red Bull and the session was suspended to remove his stricken car. The Thai driver will start from the back on Sunday.

Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas had a problematic Q3 and aborted his final run, the 2017 Russian Grand prix winner ending up in fifth place with McLaren’s Carlos Sainz delivering an impressive final run to end up best of the rest in sixth.

Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg was seventh, with Lando Norris’ McLaren in eighth. Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo completed the top ten.

Leclerc proved he is the man to beat this weekend and is the first driver to take four consecutive poles since Hamilton at the end of 2016, and the first Ferrari driver to do so since Michael Schumacher in 2001.

Leclerc said: “The car felt amazing and it feels great to be back on pole but I don’t know whether it is the best track to start on pole – the straight is very long after the start.

“It feels very, very special but I don’t want to think about stats for now. I just want to focus on the job. There is a long way to go tomorrow and it is a good start. we have been competitive all weekend and the race simulation seems good too.”

Mercedes’ tyre strategy will be a crucial part of their race on Sunday if they want to challenge Ferrari’s straight-line speed, a factor Lewis Hamilton is looking to capitalise on.

Hamilton said: “I tell you, it was a tough qualifying session. These guys have some crazy speeds on the straights. I gave it everything I had at the end and I am so glad it came together. I wasn’t expecting to get on the front row, that’s for sure.

“They are on a lower drag level plus they have that power, so we had to try something. The team have done a really good job with putting us in that position. It is a long way down to Turn 1 and it’s not the best to start on the harder tyre. But I will try to tow the hell out of Charles down to Turn 1.”

Vettel, who won the last race in Singapore but has now been beaten by Leclerc in qualifying for nine races in a row, said: “I am not entirely happy. I couldn’t extract the absolute maximum out of the car. The speed is there so let’s keep it up.”

Q3 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap
1. Charles Leclerc Scuderia Ferrari SF90 1:31.628
2. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10 1:32.030 + 0.402
3. Sebastian Vettel Scuderia Ferrari SF90 1:32.053 + 0.425
4. Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing RB15 1:32.310 + 0.682
5. Valtteri Bottas Mercedes-AMG Motorsport W10 1:32.632 + 1.004
6. Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren F1 Team MCL34 1:33.222 + 1.594
7. Nico Hülkenberg Renault F1 Team RS19 1:33.289 + 1.661
8. Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team MCL34 1:33.301 + 1.673
9. Romain Grosjean Haas F1 Team VF-19 1:33.517 + 1.889
10. Daniel Ricciardo Renault F1 Team RS19 1:33.661 + 2.033
Q2 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap*
11. Pierre Gasly Red Bull Racing RB15 1:33.950 + 1.516
12. Sergio Pérez Racing Point F1 Team RP19 1:33.958 + 1.524
13. Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing C38 1:34.037 + 1.603
14. Kevin Magnussen Haas F1 Team VF-19 1:34.082 + 1.648
15. Lance Stroll Racing Point F1 Team RP19 1:34.233 + 1.799
Q1 Qualifiers Team / Entry Time Gap**
16. Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo Racing C38 1:34.840 + 1.808
17. George Russell ROKiT Williams Racing FW42 1:35.356 + 2.324
18. Robert Kubica ROKiT Williams Racing FW42 1:36.474 + 3.442
19. Alexander Albon Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14 1:39.197 + 6.165
Outside 107% Team / Entry Time Gap**
DNQ. Daniil Kvyat Scuderia Toro Rosso Honda STR14 no time

* Denotes gap to fastest Q2 lap time of 1:32.434 posted by Charles Leclerc
* Denotes gap to fastest Q1 lap time of 1:33.032 posted by Sebastian Vettel

Post-Qualifying Penalties:

  • Max Verstappen will serve a 5-place grid penalty for the use of an additional power unit element..
  • Pierre Gasly will serve a 5-place grid penalty for the use of an additional power unit element.
  • Robert Kubica will be required to start from the back of the grid for multiple power unit element changes.
  • Alexander Albon will serve a 5-place grid penalty for the use of an additional power unit element and a 15-place grid penalty for the use of additional power unit elements. He will be required to start from the pit lane due to a different specification floor being fitted under parc ferme conditions.
  • Daniil Kvyat will be required to start from the back of the grid for multiple power unit element changes. As he failed to set a time in qualifying, he will race at the FIA Stewards’ discretion.

Image via Scuderia Ferrari

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Charlie Bullis

Formula 1 Journalist at MotorsportM8