Sebastian Vettel secures pole position at the 2017 Russian Grand Prix.
Ever since Russia first gained a championship Grand Prix in 2014, only Mercedes drivers have reached the chequered flag in first position during qualifying or the race. But that all came to an end today, as Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen both out-qualified the Silver Arrows to claim Ferrari’s first front row lock out for nine years.
Mercedes’ dominance in Russia first began to fade from the very first practice session in 2017. With Kimi Raikkonen pipping the Silver Arrows in first practice before Sebastian Vettel kept his name above the rest in practice two and three.
Forever looking off the pace, Mercedes were left searching going into qualifying. Fighting for speed as Ferrari looked comfortable and in with a shot of breaking Mercedes’ Saturday stronghold. Even taking to the track in Q1 with a harder compound and still lapping high up the order.
As the LED lights illuminated green and qualifying in Russia engaged for the fourth time, a flurry of cars began to litter the circuit. With Daniil Kvyat laying down the initial benchmark as he crossed the finish line to stop the clock at 1:37.052.
But while the field hit the track on the purple-walled Pirelli’s, Ferrari felt brave and fitted the supersoft tyres. Opting to save a set of the softest compound tyres and break the shine on Pirelli’s middle-offer tyre.
Tyre choice in mind, when Vettel soon crossed the line, Ferrari’s German driver saw his name slot in behind Bottas. Having lapped the Sochi Autodrom slower than the Mercedes.
The other Mercedes, however, had abandoned his lap. Taking too much kerb through the middle sector left Hamilton drifting wide and forced to push again. Taking more life out of his tyres on route to second place, four-tenths down to his team-mate.
At the other end of the leaderboard, McLaren and Sauber both had all their drivers stuck in the drop zone. Joined by Romain Grosjean but soon the party would lose a McLaren as Fernando Alonso pushed hard to leap up to 13th place.
The remaining drivers in the drop zone would soon see their fates sealed as yellow flags waved around the circuit.
First up came yellows at turn 14 as Pascal Wehrlein tried to carry too much speed through the 90˚ right-hander. Pitching his car into a spin as his rear tyres wobbled on their hubs as the rear end overtook the front.
Meanwhile, Jolyon Palmer was cementing his future as he found the wall at turn four.
Renault’s day had already been busy having opted to keep Jolyon’s car in the garage during final practice as they opted to change his engine ahead of qualifying.
Choosing to swap the power unit after their mechanics worked through the night in order to complete a precautionary chassis change following an exhaust leak on Friday.
Now, though, the spanners will be coming back out in the Renault garage after Palmer pitched his car into a spin when he hit the inside kerb with speed. Pitching his car into a spin across the track.
Stage two of qualifying came by quickly, with the session going green despite Palmer’s Renault still yet to be fully cleared from the track.
Once clear, though, Felipe Massa set the early benchmark with a 1:35.677. Enough to edge his team-mate during the early stages, but not enough to edge his former Ferrari team-mate when Kimi Raikkonen set about on the ultrasoft tyres.
The benchmark continued to lower as more lap times hit the board at the hands of Mercedes. Once again seeing Bottas edge Hamilton at the top, as the Finn eased into the low 1:33’s while Hamilton lingered in the high 33’s.
For Ferrari, though, an awkward error left Raikkonen posting his flying lap behind Vettel while Sebastian set about his out lap. Vettel without the issue of his team-mate being in front, though, only crossed the line with a similar lap time.
In the battle to beat the drop and move into the top 10, the chequered flag began to wave moments before Sergio Perez could cross the line. At the time, the Mexican remained in the drop zone. But as he floored his Force India out of the final corner, he edged into 9th.
Esteban Ocon then followed swiftly across the line to join his team-mate just inside the top 10. While Carlos Sainz came home in 11th, failing to find enough time despite improving on his previous best.
Likewise, Lance Stroll gained on his PB as moved up to 12th. But will move up to 11th on the grid thanks to Carlos Sainz’s 3-place grid penalty carried over from his Bahrain Grand Prix crash.
Q3, the top ten, the pole position shoot-out, the final qualifying battle in Russia. Engaging with Mercedes waiting for the green light at the end of the pit lane.
Mercedes hitting the track straight away, however, failed to stop Hulkenberg from getting ahead on track. Hampering Hamilton’s initial tyre warm up as the Renault went straight into a flying lap.
Flying already was Ferrari’s flying Finn, Raikkonen. As Kimi eased his way around the winter Olympic park to lay down the initial benchmark as he crossed the line to set a 1:33.253.
Soon come his closest challengers in Bottas and Vettel. With Valtteri splitting the Ferrari’s from a provisional front row lock out as he narrowly missed provisional pole. Hamilton, meanwhile, was struggling as errors through the final corners left the Briton over a second down.
Hamilton’s second run failed to help matters much either. As despite lapping faster than Raikkonen’s benchmark through the first two sectors, he crossed the line half a second off of the Finn’s best lap time.
Leaving Mercedes’ hopes of pole resting on Bottas’ shoulders for the second race weekend in a row. But their hopes of taking pole was not to take it away from Kimi, but to take it from Sebastian.
Raikkonen’s final qualifying run saw the Finn edge his own benchmark throughout the lap. Looking fast as improvements looked certain, right up until the final corner when Raikkonen ran wide.
Opening the door to Vettel to breeze ahead and claim just his second pole since his move to Ferrari in 2015. The year in which he claimed his last victory prior to 2017 when he led from the front at the Singapore Grand Prix.
Bottas failing to improve and better Raikkonen’s time also meant Ferrari claimed their first front row lock out this decade. Having not claimed the top two slots on a Saturday since the French Grand Prix in 2008.
For the 2017 Russian Grand Prix, Mercedes will line up side-by-side on the second row of the grid. While Felipe Massa was able to stop a monopoly at the front as he split the Red Bull’s for sixth place ahead of Verstappen.
|5||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||TAG||1’34.905||1.711|
|7||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||TAG||1’35.161||1.967|
|9||Sergio Perez||Force India||Mercedes||1’35.337||2.143|
|10||Esteban Ocon||Force India||Mercedes||1’35.430||2.236|
|11||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||Renault||1’35.948||2.754|
|13||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||Renault||1’35.968||2.774|