Nico Rosberg will start the 2016 Russian Grand Prix from pole position.
In what was set to be a qualifying fight between the Silver Arrows, Rosberg walked away with pole while Hamilton’s MGU-H brought his session to an end. Now Hamilton will have a race on his hands as Nico faces a seventh straight win.
The two Mercedes drivers have scrapped all weekend for the fastest time in practice, with Hamilton edging the qualifying simulations on Saturday morning.
But when the battle for pole boiled down, Hamilton was out of his car as the MGU-H brought his qualifying to an end for the second race weekend in a row.
The gap between Mercedes and the rest made sure Rosberg would take another pole, while the fights for survival and grid positions kept qualifying engaging.
When qualifying engaged for the third Russian Grand Prix, Wehrlein broke the silence as he rolled out onto the Sochi Autodrom. Manor’s German rookie entered the fray with a host of drivers following suit. Most of which hit the track straight away with the supersoft tyres, apart from Sergio Perez as the Mexican dipped his toe with the soft compound. Although he would only carry out an investigatory lap before pitting.
As times began to hit the board, Nico Hulkenberg held an early advantage over Esteban Gutierrez. Their times however came as Mercedes warmed their tyres, with Nico Rosberg easing ahead by 1.8 seconds.
Further down the early leaderboard had Pascal Wehrlein one tenth behind his team-mate, and over three-seconds off the Mercedes’ pace. Pascal and Rio did however split the Sauber’s of Nasr and Ericsson, as Felipe’s new chassis aids his drive following early season complaints.
As Mercedes continued to lower the benchmark to the cusp of 1 minute 35’s, Vettel and Raikkonen moved in ahead of the Williams duo for best of the rest. At the other end though, Button and Ricciardo were yet to post a time.
Jenson’s first flyer however moved the Britton into ninth, before Ricciardo took eighth. Leaving Wehrlein, Ericsson, Haryanto, Grosjean, Magnussen and Palmer in the drop zone with Kvyat and Nasr just one tenth up.
Felipe Nasr failed to aid his Q2 bid as he locked up at turn 13, causing him to take to the run off. But with time remaining, he could attempt another flyer with Kvyat and Grosjean pushing the Brazilian into the drop zone.
When the chequered flag began to wave, the battle for a Q2 slot remained with all of the drop zone drivers on track.
First to cross the line and post their final lap of the session came Renault’s Kevin Magnussen. K-Mag however could only claim P17, with a two tenth gap to survival. A survival place taken by Gutierrez and Hulkenberg as the pair edged away from the Renault.
The other Renault driver meanwhile continued to push, and despite improving on his previous best, Palmer could only take P18. Leaving the battle down to just Sauber and Haryanto.
Nasr though took the flag for 19th as he ran wide at the final corner. With his team-mate following across the line for 21st. Rio though regained the position immediately from Ericsson as the session came to a close.
Like Q1, the track was a hive of activity from the off. Even if Mercedes led a few in taking an extra warm up lap. Force India though once more took the early lead, with Sergio Perez this time the man ahead.
One lap on however, Rosberg dropped Perez by nearly two seconds as he set the new all-time Sochi lap record. Nico’s 1:35.337 saw the German leave a four tenth gap between himself and Hamilton.
When both Ferrari’s joined the board for Q2, the gap to the front sat with Vettel 1.2 seconds behind Rosberg with Kimi a further two tenths back. But while Seb posted a time and pitted, Hamilton rejoined the action.
Action including a wide-running Romain Grosjean as the rear continued to not feel as he would like. His poor performing Haas left him down in 15th place with just his team-mate behind, as Williams launched both their drivers into the top 10 with their first laps.
Daniel Ricciardo and his team-mate sat in precarious places as the chequered flag loomed. But while Ricciardo was within the top 10, his right hand mirror detached under braking.
Immediately Daniel attempted to detach the loose mirror, but the lapse in concentration meant he could not improve on previous best. With ninth place the best he could manage after setting personal best first and second sectors.
Luckily for Ricciardo, Alonso, Button and Hulkenberg could not move within the top 10 as Jenson took 11th just five hundredths behind Carlos Sainz.
Still one man though circulated the track as home favourite, Daniil Kvyat, attacked the flag. A final chance flyer from the Russian saw him slide up from 14th place into tenth by just 0.054 to Sainz.
As the green light engaged to mark the beginning of Q3, Hamilton was out of his car. He was already set to be investigated for missing the re-entry zone at turn two when he ran wide in Q1, but his issue was terminal this time around.
Like in China when he failed to set a time in qualifying, the MGU-H led to a power loss with his Mercedes. Although the MGU-H used for qualifying in Shanghai and qualifying today were different, it was the same unit as raced in China. With today’s issue becoming clear at end of Q2 when Lewis returned to the track for a feeler lap.
Without one Mercedes, the fight for pole was nearly guaranteed to not exist with Rosberg clear of the rest throughout the weekend. Even more evident was this once the first times hit the board with Nico leading by 8 tenths to Vettel.
Vettel and Perez had pushed from the off in Q3 where others had opted for an extra warm up lap once more. The one fewer lap through the tyres though did not appear to cost Vettel as he posted a 1:36.2, leaving Perez 1.3 seconds back.
Raikkonen meanwhile could only move within half a second of Vettel with his lap. Kimi though appeared to carry more fuel than others for first run as he hit the pits for a racing pit stop rather than being wheeled into the garage before his next run.
By the time Kimi returned to the track he had fallen another position at the hands of Bottas. A position he could not regain as he improved marginally with his next run to solidify fourth.
Vettel similarly improved slightly on his first time but remained in second place. He will however take a 5 place grid penalty for changing his gearbox and will start seventh, behind Sergio Perez and ahead of Daniil Kvyat, should there be no further penalties.
|11||Carlos Sainz Jr.||1:37.784||1:37.652|