McLaren’s Lando Norris took a sensational first position in Formula 1 at the end of a thrilling final top-10 shootou in a wet/dry qualifying session for the Russian Grand Prix that saw Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz grab his first front-row start and George Russell finish third. Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton qualified fourth, while championship leader Max Verstappen put in a brief Q1 appearance in the knowledge that he will start tomorrow’s race from the back of the grid due to a power unit penalty.
Heavy rain throughout Saturday morning and into the early meant that final practice was cancelled but in the hour before the scheduled start of qualifying the sun began to appear and conditions improved enough to allow the session to go ahead.
Q1 began on a damp but rapidly improving track and after AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly got things underway with a lap of 1:51.519 the times rapidly began to fall as the track ramped up and drivers gained confidence.
Hamilton soon worked his way down to lap of 1:46.937 with team-mate Valtteri Bottas slotting into second place. By that point, however, Verstappen was already back in the garage and removing his helmet after two cautious laps. The choice to take a fourth engine for the season on Friday means the Dutchman will start the race from the back of the grid and Red Bull therefore opted to minimise risk and engine wear in qualifying.
It meant that Red Bull’s front-of-grid hopes rested with Sergio Perez. The Mexican’s opening flying lap of Q1 was compromised by a small lock-up in the wet conditions and as better times came in the error left him in 11th place. His next lap promoted him to fifth place, though this time he was held up by the slower Haas of Nikita Mazepin. On the next tour, however, he managed a clean run and with quickest times in every sector he vaulted to P1 with a lap of 1:46.455.
Hamilton managed to eclipse that late on and thanks to a lap of 1:45.992 the Mercedes driver went through in top spot ahead of Bottas and Perez.
Eliminated at the end of the session were Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen in P16, followed by Haas’ Mick Schumacher, the second Alfa of Antonio Giovinazzi, the second Haas of Nikita Mazepin and Max who saved both his PU and tyres.
Hamilton was again to the fore in the second segment and he took top spot with a lap of 1:45.129. Bottas again slotted into second place, but this time Perez couldn’t match his third place from Q1, with the Mexican’s best lap of 1:45.834 only being good enough for P5. Fernando Alonso took third place with a good final lap of 1:45.514, while perhaps in a portent of things to come claimed fourth place 0.007s ahead of Perez.
Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel didn’t find the time he needed, however, and he missed out on a Q3 berth by just five hundredths of a second. Eliminated behind the German were Gasly and AlphaTauri team-mate Yuki Tsunoda, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi and Ferrrari’s Charles Leclerc, both of whom will also take a PU penalty tomorrow.
As the drivers went out at the beginning of Q3 on inters it quickly became clear that the crossover point to slicks was close. The field opted to put in banker laps on intermediate tyres and after the first runs Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton led the way from Bottas.
However, rivals were already pulling into the pit lane to take on slick tyres to take advantage of the steadily improving surface. One of those was Hamilton, but in the pit entry the Briton momentarily lost control and clipped the wall, damaging his front wing. The delay to fit the new wing meant he would be one of the last to take to the track and that he would only get one opportunity.
And in the end it was McLaren’s Lando Norris who made the most of the conditions to claim his first pole position. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and Williams’ George Russell also made their moves at the right time to take P2 and P3 respectively ahead of Hamilton who claimed fourth place with his opening lap.
Behind the Mercedes driver, McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo took fifth place ahead of the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas. Lance Stroll was eighth for Aston Martin, Pérez finished ninth for Red Bull and the final top-10 place was taken by Alpine’s Esteban Ocon.
2021 FIA Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix - Qualifying
1 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 1:41.993 7 206.414
2 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 1:42.510 0.517 0.507 7 205.373
3 George Russell Williams/Mercedes 1:42.983 0.990 0.971 7 204.429
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.050 2.057 2.017 6 202.333
5 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren/Mercedes 1:44.156 2.163 2.121 7 202.127
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine/Renault 1:44.204 2.211 2.168 7 202.034
7 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:44.710 2.717 2.664 7 201.058
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:44.956 2.963 2.905 7 200.586
9 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda 1:45.337 3.344 3.279 7 199.861
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 1:45.865 3.872 3.796 7 198.864
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin/Mercedes 1:46.573 1.444 1.374 8 197.543
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri/Honda 1:46.641 1.512 1.438 9 197.417
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda 1:46.751 1.622 1.543 9 197.214
- Nicholas Latifi Williams/Mercedes 2
- Charles Leclerc Ferrari/Ferrari
16 Kimi Räikkönen Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:49.586 3.594 3.391 10 192.112
17 Mick Schumacher Haas/Ferrari 1:49.830 3.838 3.621 10 191.685
18 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 1:51.023 5.031 4.747 9 189.625
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas/Ferrari 1:53.764 7.772 7.333 10 185.056
- Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda 2