McLaren’s Lando Norris seized his first Formula One pole position at the Russian Grand Prix yesterday after seven-times world champion Lewis Hamilton hit the wall in a damp and dramatic qualifying session.
Ferrari’s Spaniard Carlos Sainz joined the young Briton on the front row in Sochi with Williams’ George Russell, Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate from next season, completing a sensational top three against all odds. Hamilton, who had been on provisional pole before everyone switched to slicks on a drying track, qualified fourth – making it three Britons in the top four – after a brush with the pit lane wall.
The team hurriedly swapped the front wing and got him back out on slicks in time for one more flying lap to the chequered flag but the tyres had lost temperature and Hamilton spun, with his fastest time remaining that set on the intermediates.
Hamilton can still expect to retake the overall lead from Red Bull rival Max Verstappen on Sunday with the 23-year-old Dutch driver starting at the back due to engine penalties.
Mercedes have yet to be beaten in Sochi since the first grand prix there in 2014. Sainz had set the pace on slicks but Norris, 21, produced a final effort half a second faster in a qualifying session that had looked in doubt earlier in the day as rain swept in. The 21-year-old Briton whooped in delight at what he hoped would be the first of many poles.
“It feels amazing... you never think you will get pole until you get it and now I’ve managed to do it. Extremely happy and big thanks to the team. They’ve done an amazing job,” he said.
“It was tough. I am going to make myself sound good but it was tricky...The lap before I was two seconds down and I wasn’t very confident we were going to improve on the previous lap...I risked quite a bit and it paid off. I’m a happy boy.”
Mercedes-powered McLaren won the previous Italian Grand Prix in a one-two finish after Hamilton and Verstappen collided and took each other out.
Australian Daniel Ricciardo, winner on merit at Monza, qualified fifth in Sochi ahead of Spaniard Fernando Alonso for Alpine on a day of anxious weather watching after rain washed out final practice.
Hamilton, whose teammate Valtteri Bottas qualified only seventh, blamed himself.
“It was just a mistake from myself. I’m incredibly disappointed in myself,” said a deflated Hamilton of his pit lane prang. Up until then I was in the groove, I was really in the zone. I’m really sorry for all the team that are here and back at the factory because obviously that’s not what you expect from a champion. It is what it is and I will do my best tomorrow to try and rectify it.”
Hamilton is still chasing a record-extending 100th Formula One win and his first since the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in July. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll lines up eighth with Mexican Sergio Perez ninth for Red Bull and Esteban Ocon completing the top 10 for Alpine.
Verstappen, five points clear of Hamilton after 14 races, made only a brief appearance in qualifying with nothing to achieve.
“We decided not to do too many laps as the risk of having a moment or an accident would not be worth it,” he said. “The track conditions were fine and there was good grip, I think it will be similar conditions during the race.” Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Williams’ Nicholas Latifi also start at the back due to power unit changes.
GRID POSITION FOR RUSSIAN GP
Lando Norris (GBR/McLaren-Mercedes)
Carlos Sainz (ESP/Ferrari)
George Russell (GBR/Williams-Mercedes)
Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes)
Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/McLaren-Mercedes)
Fernando Alonso (ESP/Alpine-Renault)
Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Mercedes)
Lance Stroll (CAN/Aston Martin-Mercedes)
Sergio Perez (MEX/Red Bull-Honda)
Esteban Ocon (FRA/Alpine-Renault)
Sebastian Vettel (GER/Aston Martin-Mercedes)
Pierre Gasly (FRA/AlphaTauri-Honda)
Yuki Tsunoda (JPN/AlphaTauri-Honda)
Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari)
Mick Schumacher (GER/Haas-Ferrari)
Antonio Giovinazzi (ITA/Alfa Romeo Racing-Ferrari)
Nikita Mazepin (RUS/Haas-Ferrari)
Nicholas Latifi (CAN/Williams-Mercedes) *
Charles Leclerc (MON/Ferrari) *
Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull-Honda) *
* Start at rear of grid as penalty for engine changes
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