Russian GP: Qualifying topped by Nico Rosberg

Pole for Nico Rosberg at the Russian Grand Prix.

The grid defining session for the Russian Grand Prix topped by Nico Rosberg as the German claims back-to-back poles while Mercedes claim their 11th front row lock-out of the year. 

Going into qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix, the paddock waited for the turn 13 barrier to be repaired due to the severe impact Carlos Sainz suffered when he crashed out of the final practice session. FP3 had been a busy session up until Sainz’s crash that ended the session quarter of an hour early. But thankfully despite a heavy impact that saw Carlos go underneath the TecPro barrier and puncture a hole into the fence, Carlos was ok and was only taken to the hospital via helicopter for extra checks just to be safe.

When Q1 kicked off, a handful of drivers engaged in the on track action with the supersoft tyres straight away. But while the Sauber’s, Manor’s and McLaren’s used the option tyres, Verstappen was out in the sole remaining Toro Rosso with the soft, prime compound tyres fitted as he set the opening qualifying time.

Verstappen’s time was slowly nudged down the board as a few more times began to be posted. But when Rosberg crossed the line with his first flyer, he moved 1.8 seconds clear of the teenager with a lap good enough to match last year’s pole time. Nico’s 1:38.556 was also enough to create a one second gap to Hamilton before Rosberg dropped another two tenths.

Nico’s second flyer could have been better bar a kick of oversteer on the exit of the penultimate corner. This mistake masked what could have been a better margin after Hamilton launched his car closer to the top to create just a two tenth gap. But while it took Lewis multiple laps to get that close, Vettel managed to tuck in a few hundredths behind Lewis on his first flyer, however Sebastian was using the supersoft tyres.

After their initial times, Alonso was actually one of the three drivers (the others being Mercedes’ duo) to not return to the track at the end of the session. Whereas Bottas was out on track with the supersoft tyres and launched himself out of the drop zone as he improved by two and a half seconds.

Valtteri’s improvement saw the Russian Daniil Kvyat momentarily fall into the bottom five but swiftly moved back up the order. Another driver jumping out of the drop zone was Felipe Nasr. Nasr’s gains actually pushed Alonso out of qualifying as the Spaniard, who will take a 35-place grid penalty for his power unit change, failed to improve on his final flyer. Button on the other hand made it into Q2 with a four tenths difference between the McLaren’s.

For Q2, most of the remaining drivers hit the track within the early minutes with all drivers on the supersoft tyres. Nico Rosberg was one of the drivers to head out early and after saving a set of supersoft tyres, he led from the off as he posted a 1:38.335 from the off. Both Force India’s were also on new supersoft tyres for this stage and able to post times strong enough for second and third.

But they and Rosberg found themselves nudged down a few minutes later as Hamilton on his second attempt launched himself into P1 by six tenths of a second and became the first man into the 1:37’s. Rosberg however regained the top spot soon after by one tenth of a second as Lewis returned to the pits.

For Ferrari, what was some drivers second stints were their first stints with Raikkonen moving into Hulkenberg’s third place with his first flying lap. The gap between Kimi and the Hulk was in fact nothing more than two hundredths of a second.

Following Kimi across the line was his team-mate with Vettel initially replacing Raikkonen in second by three tenths of a second. Bottas however soon moved above the Scuderia by nearly two tenths of a second himself while his team-mate was yet to set a flying lap.

Like in Q1, as the flag waved Nasr moved himself out of the drop zone under the flag but was only able to move into 10th place. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, he was eliminated from qualifying by Sergio Perez as the Mexican found the time he needed. Fellow Brazilian, Felipe Massa, was also eliminated in Q2 after setting the sessions slowest time.

But while the Felipe’s found themselves out of qualifying, Kvyat was still pushing to get into Q3 for his home grand prix. Unfortunately for him, he missed out by nine hundredths of a second after cautiously taking the final corners and having to settle for 11th after he was unable to get the tyres into the optimal range.

Unlike in Q2, Ferrari were the first drivers to post Q3 times. Their initial laps however were not competitive as they opted for a warm up lap, as did Mercedes and Bottas.

Force India on the other hand bucked the Q3 trend as they hit the board with flying laps from the off. But they were also the only team to use used tyres and the extra warm up laps came to the aid of Ferrari as Raikkonen took P1 before Vettel and Bottas moved ahead of Ferrari’s Finn.

While those drivers posted their banker laps, Rosberg had provisional pole by three tenths of a second to Hamilton after Lewis was unable to better his team-mate’s storming lap. Vettel was also unable to challenge the Mercedes as he reported understeer and pitted for more front wing angle with time left for one last flyer.

Once back on track, Hamilton suffered a kick of oversteer at turn 13 and ran off the track, costing him his chance to challenge for pole despite Rosberg failing to improve himself. Raikkonen also suffered on his final flyer at turn 13 as he suffered a big lock up under braking and ran off the track before also ditching his lap.

With Hamilton, Raikkonen and now Rosberg in the pits, the chance for pole was left to Bottas and Vettel with both improving but only enough to fight for third. That battle in fact was won by Bottas despite running wide and onto the grass at the end of the lap to out-qualify Vettel by 6 hundredths of a second.

With pole position at the Russian Grand Prix secured by Rosberg and Hamilton in second, it is Mercedes’ 11th front row lock-out of the season. It is also back-to-back poles for Nico Rosberg who was fastest in qualifying here and at the Japanese Grand Prix last time out.

Pole however was not enough for Rosberg in Japan as Lewis won the race, and with a long run down to turn two from the grid tomorrow, Hamilton could have a shot at the lead from the off once again. Similar to what Rosberg had last year here, when it was Lewis on pole.

Position Driver Best lap
1 Rosberg Q3: 1:37.113
2 Hamilton 1:37.433
3 Bottas 1:37.912
4 Vettel 1:37.965
5 Raikkonen 1:38.348
6 Hulkenberg 1:38.659
7 Perez 1:38.691
8 Grosjean 1:38.787
9 Verstappen 1:38.924
10 Ricciardo 1:39.728
11 Kvyat Q2: 1:39.214
12 Nasr 1:39.323
13 Button 1:39.763
14 Maldonado 1:39.811
15 Massa 1:39.895
16 Alonso Q1: 1:40.144
17 Ericsson 1:40.660
18 Stevens 1:43.693
19 Merhi 1:43.804
20 Sainz DNC