Toto Wolff admitted “the racing gods” had been with Mercedes after pole-sitter Lewis Hamilton narrowly avoided a P15 start for the Russian Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s qualifying fate was in the balance as he approached the timing line in Q2 at Sochi to try and squeeze in a flying lap before the chequered flag fell, having been put on the back foot by a combination of circumstances.
With his initial time deleted for exceeding track limits, the World Champion’s next attempt was thwarted when the red flag appeared after Sebastian Vettel crashed his Ferrari.
That left 2mins 15secs of the session remaining, with Hamilton and several other drivers having to drive the circuit as quickly as possible to get in another ‘hot’ lap. The Briton made it with just over a second to spare, got through to P3 – and then stuck his car on pole.
With Valtteri Bottas knocked off the front row by Max Verstappen, it was a far from perfect day for Mercedes – surprisingly, given how dominant they had been earlier in the weekend.
Team principal Wolff admitted luck had been on their side.
“Sometimes, it’s the tracks where we perform well in practice that prove to be the most difficult in qualifying and the race,” said the Austrian.
“That happened today with a very challenging qualifying session. We had a very strong car but almost stumbled over a red flag.
“I think we had the racing gods on our side that we were able to make it into Q3.
“It’s always impressive how Lewis manages to put it all together even if adversity is being thrown at him. He did a fantastic job to secure pole position.”
Bottas had gone into qualifying looking to have every chance of bagging pole position himself, but ended up 0.652sec down on his team-mate in P3.
“On Valtteri’s side, we need to investigate what happened because he had a very strong Friday but FP3 went against him,” added Wolff.
“The changes he made to the car for qualifying seemed to be right, but then he lost some performance in Q3. The gap doesn’t do him justice, so we need to look into what happened.
“But we are looking forward to an exciting race, with both drivers starting on different tyre compounds and a long run to Turn 2. Let’s see how it all plays out.”
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