Lando Norris pulled off the shock of the Russian GP weekend, so far at least, as he took pole position ahead of Carlos Sainz while Lewis Hamilton tagged the wall, finishing P4.
On an afternoon when Hamilton had everything to gain with Max Verstappen set to start the race down in 20th place, the Briton made a rare mistake, costing him the chance of pole position.
While his rivals swapped to slick tyres for the final few minutes of qualifying, Hamilton’s session went from bad to worse as he had just one shot at a slick lap, struggled to get heat into his tyres and then spun.
Norris took pole position, his first ever in Formula 1, beating Sainz by 0.517s. George Russell put his Williams up into third place.
— tami. (@Vetteleclerc) September 25, 2021
Despite concerns that qualifying would be a washout, the Formula 1 cars took to a wet Sochi Autodrom at 3pm local time as scheduled, intermediates the tyre of choice.
After seven minutes of trouble-free running, Antonio Giovinazzi was the first spinner of Q1, getting it wrong at Turn 16. With Charles Leclerc right behind him on the track, the Ferrari driver had to quickly brake and take avoiding action. Leclerc’s next lap put him up to third place behind Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, the Monégasque driver putting in the laps despite his back-of-the-grid start.
It was a very different plan of action to that from Red Bull who sent Max Verstappen, who also has a grid penalty for taking a new engine, out for two laps and then pitting him without a time on the board. He was quickly out of his car and out of qualifying.
— tami. (@Vetteleclerc) September 25, 2021
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Hamilton put in a late run to finish Q1 in P1 ahead of Bottas and Sergio Perez while out went Kimi Raikkonen, Mick Schumacher, Giovinazzi, Nikita Mazepin and Verstappen. A Turn 2 incident between Lance Stroll and Daniel Ricciardo will be investigated after qualifying.
The drivers stuck with the inters in Q2 despite the track drying out as the rain stayed away. Mercedes again went fastest, Hamilton up on Bottas by a tenth, with Fernando Alonso up in third place.
Unlike in Q1, Ferrari opted against Leclerc putting in a lap time with Williams making the same call with Nicholas Latifi as news broke that the Canadian also has a grid penalty for an engine change. They dropped out in Q2 along with Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda. Tsunoda added his name to the list of those under investigation for blocking Vettel.
Seb was told on the team radio that he is in P11 in qualifying at Sochi:
— Sebastian Vettel #5 (@sebvettelnews) September 25, 2021
The top 10 stayed on the inters for the start of Q3, but the big question was would anyone gamble and stick a set of slick tyres on. Russell, again in Q3, was first to do so.
While Hamilton went P1 with a 1:44.050 on the inters, Russell started a flying lap on the soft Pirellis. With his rivals one by one heading into the pits to join him on the slicks, Hamilton came into the pits – and hit the wall at the entrance, damaging his W12. His mechanics came out with a new front wing, slick tyres and Hamilton had one shot at a flying lap on the slick tyres. He struggled to get heat into the tyres and spun on his final attempt.
Meanwhile, Sainz put in a 1:42.510 to jump up into provisional pole but then Lando Norris came through with a 1:41.993. Russell also benefited from his early slick tyre choice, taking third place off Hamilton who was not able to improve his time. Daniel Ricciardo was P5 ahead of Alonso, Bottas, Stroll, Perez and Esteban Ocon.
Latifi, Leclerc and Verstappen will make up the final three positions on the grid.
1 Lando Norris McLaren 1:41.993
2 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 0.517s
3 George Russell Williams 0.990s
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 2.057s
5 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren 2.163s
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine 2.211s
7 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 2.717s
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin 2.963s
9 Sergio Perez Red Bull 3.344s
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine 3.872s
11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin 1:46.573
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri 1:46.621
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1:46.751
14 Nicholas Latifi Williams no time
15 Charles Leclerc Ferrari no time
16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing 1:49.586
17 Mick Schumacher Haas 1:49.830
18 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing 1:51.023
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas 1:53.764
20 Max Verstappen Red Bull no time