The Russian F1 round at Sochi will have a silver front row for Sunday’s race. However it is not Lewis Hamilton on pole but his team mate, Valtteri Bottas. His pole setting time of 1:31.387 had him just 0.145 of a second ahead of Hamilton. It was also somewhat of a fightback from Bottas as his Q1 and Q2 times were slower than Hamilton.
Ferrari locks out row two, with Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikonnen separated by three thenths and close to a second off the pace. But the surprise packet in the top five was the pace of the Haas in the hands of Kevin Magnussen. Although 1.8 seconds slower than the pace of Bottas, Magnussen’s determination and doggedness has him in a great position to add more points to the bank at race end.
Force India’s Esteban Ocon, Charles Leclerc from Sauber, Sergio Perez in his Force India, Haas and Romain Grosjean, and Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson round out the top ten.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo qualified 11th and 12th however Verstappan will start further down the grid than his qualifying position granted. Along with grid penalties for engine and gearbox component changes, Verstappan was also hit with a penalty for not slowing sufficiently for a yellow flag in Q1 after the Williams car of Sergey Sirotkin spun in Q1.
Young Kiwi driver Brendon Hartley went out in Q1 also after complaining of a vibration throughout his Toro Rosso. Veteran Fernando Alonso had a Q1 to forget as his pace was surprisingly slow at nearly three second slower than the leader in Q1.
Tire choice will always be critical however given the extra pace the Hypersofts gave after running the Ultrasofts it’s going to be tyre management that becomes important after the first pit stop. Sochi has so far not seen a team win if a car has made two pit stops.
Sochi also notches the fifth front row lockout by Mercedes in the 2018 season and with Bottas taking P1 he gives the silver team their 97th pole position. But he has to watch the man behind him, Sebastian Vettel. Bottas won last year and started from P3.
Sochi also has Williams not have a car in the top ten for the ninth time this year, yet between 2014 to 2017 the team always had a car in the top six for the Russian F1.
This weekend’s race starts at 14:10 local time and if Hamilton grabs the win it virtually consolidates his run for the championship.