Sebastian Vettel claimed a sensational pole position with Kimi Raikkonen taking second to give Ferrari a front row lock out for the Russian Grand Prix.
Valterri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton could only manage third and fourth places on the grid at a track that should suit their Mercedes set up.
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo will start from fifth after finishing a staggering 1.616 seconds off the pace. Felipe Massa squeezed his Williams between the other Red Bull on the grid, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and both Force India’s rounding out the top 10.
Stunning Result For Ferrari
Any doubts about Ferrari’s early success this season should now be put to rest after their complete domination of qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix.
The Italian team have always been just off the Mercedes qualifying pace in the opening races but that was reversed at the picturesque Sochi Autrodrom.
On the first hot lap run in Q3 Raikkonen laid down the fastest time with 1m 33.253s, leading Bottas on 1m 33.289s, Vettel on 1m 33.426s, and Hamilton on 1m 34.464s.
The second hot lap run also fell to Ferrari but Vettel leap-frogged Raikkonen to clinch pole without Bottas or Hamilton being able to improve their positions.
This remarkable result gives Ferrari their first front row lock out since the 2008 French Grand Prix. The last time Ferrari started from pole was at the Singapore Grand Prix in September 2015.
Vettel said after qualifying: “We had a good start to the season. In qualifying Mercedes have been very strong. We are in front here. We managed to improve the car for this race. I am sure it will be close tomorrow. They had good pace on the long run but for now we are very pleased we are back.”
Mercedes Struggling in Sochi
In contrast to Ferrari, the normally slick Mercedes outfit have struggled so far this weekend and they are already drawing comparisons to last season’s race in Singapore when Hamilton was inexplicably out of sorts.
Already through the practice and qualifying sessions the Englishman has had issues with his brakes, trouble controlling his rear and uneven tire temperature.
Despite putting in a better lap on his last hot run, Hamilton still ended 0.478 seconds behind Bottas and has now been out-qualified by his Finnish team-mate for the second consecutive week.
It puts Hamilton on the back-foot in his efforts to chase-down Vettel who starts the weekend with a 7 point lead and every chance of extending that further.
“I just wasn’t quick enough today,” said Hamilton.
“Have to go back to the drawing board and try and figure out why. It was all the last sector, I was losing half a second.”
“Tomorrow is still all to play for. I’m still up there in the mix.”
“Ferrari did a great job. They look quick on race pace and my race runs weren’t great yesterday, so it’s going to be tough. But we’ll give everything we’ve got.”
Palmer Keeps Renault Pit Busy
Another Englishman, Jolyon Palmer, is also having a shaky start at Sochi keeping his Renault pit crew busy with repairs.
His problems began with a leaking exhaust that burnt the car forcing a complete chassis change overnight. Then a loss of engine power during FP3 left the already tired crew scrambling to replace the engine before qualifying.
The lack of track-time hurt Palmer and pushing for a strong lap time in qualifying saw him take a corner too hard and crash into the barrier.
It heaps more pressure onto Palmer who hasn’t been able to match the strong performance of his new team-mate Hulkenberg so far this campaign.
“Under pressure, I just committed hard and took a little bit of curb which wasn’t ideal,” said Palmer.
“It’s a shame because I think it’s a similar case to Melbourne where I lost a lot of track time and then you try to make up for it.”
“Probably if I’d dialled it a lot better in FP3 then I think we had the pace to be through Q1 quite comfortably.”
“So, when you haven’t done many laps today, then it becomes a little bit more on the limit and you have to dig deep and explore new limits.”
But Palmer isn’t losing hope and is focusing on a strong start to jump the field.
“The special tactic is just to get a good start,” he said. “It’s a long run down to Turn 2.”