Lando Norris claimed the first pole of his Formula One career in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix. The British driver mastered difficult changing conditions on a wet track in Sochi with a marvellous final lap for McLaren. Lewis Hamilton made an uncharacteristic error and could manage only fourth. Carlos Sainz was in second for Ferrari, with George Russell a superb third for Williams.
Daniel Ricciardo was in fifth for McLaren and Hamilton’s title rival Max Verstappen will start from the back of the grid after taking penalties for fitting a new power unit.
Persistent heavy rain all morning had threatened qualifying, with final practice abandoned because of the conditions. tuttavia, by the time the session was due to start it had briefly abated allowing the cars on – albeit on a tricky, wet track.
Norris took it in his stride in Q3 as the track dried out but Mercedes appeared to have the whip hand. They were quick here all weekend and looked the class of the field. On his first hot lap in Q3 and with the teams still running on the intermediate tyres, Hamilton had the edge with a 1min 44.050sec, almost seven-tenths up on his teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Yet in a dramatic season there was more to come. With a highly unusual error, Hamilton hit the wall on his way back into the pits and took damage to his left front wing, which had to be replaced. Mercedes got him out but only with time to put in one quick lap, a drying line allowing the teams to take the chance on slick tyres.
Norris, who had time to warm his tyres over several laps, made the most of it, putting in a magnificent final run of 1min 41.993sec – a full half a second clear of Sainz. Hamilton, with only one warm-up lap, did not have time to put the heat into his tyres and was clearly slower before spinning on his final attempt.
Trailing Verstappen by five points in the world championship, Hamilton needs to maximise his advantage against the Dutchman here but has a real task in hand from fourth on the grid.
Verstappen completed one lap but did not set a time because he will start from the back of the grid after taking a fourth new power unit on Friday. With only three allowed per season and Verstappen suffering damage to his second engine when he was hit by Hamilton at Silverstone, Red Bull opted to absorb the hit of a penalty at Sochi. The Dutchman already had a three-place grid penalty here for crashing into Hamilton at Monza and with Mercedes expected to be on top in Russia, this race was deemed to be the best to minimise the damage from their penalty.
Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon were in sixth and 10th for Alpine, with Bottas in seventh. Lance Stroll was in eighth for Aston Martin and Sergio Pérez in ninth for Red Bull.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was in 15th but having taken a fourth new powerunit will start from 19th. Williams’ Nicholas Latifi also took new power unit components and was in 14th but will start from 18th.
Sebastian Vettel was in 11th for Aston Martin with the AlphaTauris of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda in 12th and 13th.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi were in 16th and 18th with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin in 17th and 19th for Haas.