Lewis Hamilton survived a significant scare in Q2 to go on to snatch pole position for the 2020 Russian Grand Prix with a new track record at Sochi Autodrom.
His Mercedes team mate Valtteri Bottas wasn’t able to sustain his own form into Q3 and lost out to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in the final seconds of qualifying on Saturday.
Neither Ferrari made it through to the final round, with Charles Leclerc set to start from 11th after Sebastian Vettel crashed and caused a red flag stoppage toward the end of Q2
- 2020 Russian Grand Prix – Qualifying results
Q1: Mercedes in charge, both Ferrari just squeak through
After a very warm and sunny final practice, heavy dark clouds had rolled in over Sochi Autodrom by the time that Williams’ George Russell was the first man out on track for the start of qualifying. He was soon commenting on the change caused by the cooler and windier conditions.
The first man to set a time was Valtteri Bottas with an opening lap of 1:32.656s, while his Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton was among several drivers to have their first lap times deleted after exceeding track limits, leaving Racing Point’s Sergio Perez second quickest ahead of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc.
Hamilton regrouped and put in a more respectful effort to slot into second, 0.327s behind Bottas despite a brief lock-up and having undertaken the second run on the same set of soft compound tyres. Max Verstappen went fifth fastest for Red Bull putting him ahead of Leclerc, while Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo was seventh quickest on mediums ahead of Pierre Gasly, Alex Albon and Lance Stroll.
With another run to come, Kevin Magnussen was on the bubble while his Haas team mate Romain Grosjean was firmly in the elimination zone along with Esteban Ocon, Kimi Raikkonen, Antonio Giovinazzi and Nicholas Latifi. Latifi was first to go again and briefly elbowed his way out of the bottom five, only to then see the rest of the field improve still further and push him back into the drop zone.
Almost caught out in the rash of better times was Leclerc, who had opted not to come out for another run and found himself plummeting from sixth to 14th place just ahead of his Ferrari team mate Sebastian Vettel. Fortunately both men scraped through to Q2 while Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Magnussen and Latifi were all eliminated, along with Raikkonen who spun at turn 2 meaning that he wasn’t able to improve his earlier time. The best of the late runs came from Russell, who leapt up to 13th in the final seconds of the session to secure a berth in the second round.
Q2: Hamilton survives after deleted lap times and Vettel crash
With the weather looking increasingly changeable, teams were keen to get their cars back out on track when the lights went green just in case there was any rain. Bottas, Hamilton and Verstappen all opted to come out on medium tyres while the rest of the field were playing safe with softs.
Hamilton laid down the gauntlet with a blistering 1:32.085s only to have his time deleted again for exceeding track limits, this time at turn 18. That left Ricciardo and Sainz at the top of the pile instead, with Perez in third having proved faster than Bottas who had made a small error and found himself eight tenths off Ricciardo’s pace.
Hamilton pitted to take on his last remaining new set of medium tyres before making his second run. But before he could undertake his crucial run, Sebastian Vettel clipped the inside kerb at turn 4 and lost the rear, sending the Ferrari into a heavy impact with the barrier with debris scattered over the track with Leclerc narrowly avoiding the fall out, forcing race control to declare an immediate red flag.
It left just over two minutes on the clock when the session restarted, with Hamilton yet to set a time and at risk of being eliminated leaving him 15th on the grid if he wasn’t able to do so. Bottas had been more fortunate, having just completed his latest run by the time Vettel crashed out and gone second quickest, meaning that he was able to breath easy.
The cars started queueing at the end of pit lane even before race control announced when the session would restart. Hamilton – the man with the most to lose – was at the back, having been forced to swap to a soft tyre strategy. The wait proved too much for Stroll whose car was pushed back out of the line by the mechanics due to concerns about overheating.
Hamilton made it to the line before the chequered flag by the skin of his teeth, while Sainz and Perez both missed out on a chance to improve their times. It was far from his best lap, but Hamilton still did enough to claw himself up into fourth place and through to Q3 ahead of Perez, Norris and Gasly. Also making up enough time to get through was Albon, who was up to eighth ahead of Verstappen and Ocon as the last to make it through.
Leclerc ended up on the wrong side of the cut in 11th, meaning that he joined Kvyat, Stroll, Russell and Vettel on the sidelines.
Q3: Hamilton strikes back for pole, Bottas loses out to Verstappen
After the drama of Q2, the final top ten pole shoot-out was somewhat more orderly. There was no hanging about this time, with all ten surviving cars quickly heading out to set their first times and Hamilton making an emphatic point with a lap time of 1:31.391s, almost eighth tenths quicker than Bottas.
Almost a full second off Hamilton’s provisional pole was Verstappen in third followed by Ricciardo, Perez, Sainz, Ocon and Albon, with Gasly and Norris proving to be the slowest two cars of this initial run. This time there were no deletions for anyone exceeding track limits.
There was still time for everyone to make one last push. Wary of another late red flag or traffic congestion, the cars came out earlier than usual. A mistake in the first sector and a poor second sector cost Bottas any chance of stealing pole from Hamilton, who trimmed his time to set a new track record of 1:31.304s just seconds before Verstappen pulled out a terrific lap to evict Bottas from the front row, albeit still half a second slower than Hamilton.
Bottas will share the second row with Perez, with Ricciardo and Sainz lining up behind them. Ocon takes seventh on the grid with Norris putting in a better second lap to claim eighth, leaving Gasly and Albon the slowest of the cars in Q3.
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