A CLOSE SHAVE BUT HAMILTON RACKS UP 96TH POLE IN SOCHI
Simply reading the results of qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix and you would be led to believe it was business as usual for Lewis Hamilton. However, reading further you would discover that due to a red flag stopping qualifying, Hamilton was a second away from being knocked out in Q2, with the prospect of starting today’s race in 15th place.
The 6-time world champion had not set a time in Q2 when the second session was stopped following Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel losing is car’s rear end over one of the sausage curves at Turn 4 and ending in the tyre wall.
After the debris was cleared and the barrier repaired, qualifying restarted with just 2mins 15secs left, and with Hamilton way down the train of cars in 8th trying to make it to the start line before the end of the session.
He overtook a couple of cars to make it to the line in time but as he slowed at the final corner to make some space between himself and the Renault ahead, and his engineer Peter Bonnington urging him on the radio, “You need to go. Go now.”, it was touch and go whether he would cross the start line in time to make his one and only hot lap.
Even though one error or yellow flag would have spelled disaster, once Hamilton had crossed the line in time it was almost as if he relaxed and settled into posting the time he needed, ending the session with a lap good enough for fourth place at the time.
In Q3 no such drama was repeated, and Hamilton earned his 96th pole also breaking the lap record, with Max Verstappen’s Red Bull 0.563secs slower splitting the Silver Arrows and demoting Valtteri Bottas into P3, 0.652secs behind the world champion.
Hamilton in post quali interviews described the session as “one of the worst qualifyings – it was horrible, heart in mouth the whole way”.
He was partly the architect of his own misfortune though as his first Q2 flying lap was deleted for exceeding track limits when he ran wide at the final corner. Had this lap stood then he would have already qualified for Q3 before Vettel crashed and stopped the session.
The residual knock on effect for the race is that the team had opted for a soft tyre to give Hamilton extra pace for the do or die lap which means he will start the race on the soft tyres, while Verstappen and Bottas start on medium tyres which is considered better in race set up.
“I am starting on the soft tyre, which is not good,” Hamilton said. “It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole and undoubtedly I am probably going to get drafted by the cars behind me and they are starting on the medium and that is definitely the better tyre.”
Bottas said, “It has been looking pretty good all weekend but Q3 I found some gains but the others found more. Here it is pretty sensitive with the tyres getting it right.”
“The first run, the tyres were too cold and the second one, I don’t know. It’s a pretty good place to start third here and I am on the right tyre as well.”
Verstappen said, “It felt really good just trying to find the right balance. Second run we made a few changes and that gave me more grip. You really need good entry grip on this track, and it was a really nice lap to drive.”
Verstappen was nearly 1.2secs quicker than team-mate Alex Albon, who qualified 10th.
Racing Point’s Sergio Perez took fourth from Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo with his final lap, while McLaren’s Carlos Sainz was sixth.
The Spaniard’s team-mate Lando Norris, using a new nose and front wing, was eighth, while Williams driver George Russell made it into the second session and will start 14th.
The full grid line is as follows:
- Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
- Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 4. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
- Daniel Ricciardo (Renault) 6. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
- Esteban Ocon (Renault) 8. Lando Norris (McLaren)
- Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) 10. Alex Albon (Red Bull)
- Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 12. Daniil Kvyat (AlphaTauri)
- Lance Stroll (Racing Point) 14. George Russell (Williams)
- Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 16. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
- Antonio Giovinazzi (Alfa Romeo) 18. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
- Nicholas Latifi (Williams). 20. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
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