Sebastian Vettel on Russian GP pole position
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Sebastian Vettel headed Kimi Raikkonen as Ferrari locked out the front row at the Russian Grand Prix.
Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton were third and fourth.
Hamilton is having a tricky weekend – he was more than 0.4secs down on his team-mate while less than 0.1secs separated Vettel, Raikkonen and Bottas.
Vettel’s pole was the first for Ferrari since Singapore in September 2015. The last time the team took the front row was at the 2008 French Grand Prix.
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Hamilton out of sorts
Hamilton was more than a second off the pace on his first run in final qualifying. He managed to find some time on his final lap but was still 0.478secs slower than his new team-mate.
Bottas has now out-qualified Hamilton for the second race in succession.
In Bahrain two weeks ago, the Finn owed his pole position partly to a number of mistakes by Hamilton on his final qualifying lap but in Russia his advantage over the three-time champion was earned on pure performance.
It was bad news for Hamilton, who heads into the race seven points behind Vettel in the championship and faces the very real prospect of losing a serious amount of ground before the start of the European season in Spain in two weeks’ time.
Ferrari on fire
Ferrari have looked to have the edge on Mercedes all weekend around the Sochi Autodrome on the Black Sea Coast, but it was much closer in the end that it had looked as if it might be at one stage.
Vettel, who has won two of the first three races this season, pipped Raikkonen by 0.059secs with his final lap of the session, after the Finn surprisingly set the pace on his first lap in the top 10 shoot-out.
Bottas was just 0.036secs adrift of his fellow Finn but Hamilton has struggled through the two days so far, losing brakes, running wide and losing the rear end with regularity.
Mercedes had the edge on Ferrari on one-lap pace in the first three races of the season, but the Italian team have turned that around this weekend.
What they said
Vettel said: “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.”
The German added: “I had a good start to the session, was feeling reasonably comfortable and then in Q2 I lost a little bit the rhythm. In Q3 the first run was not really tidy but I got a good lap in the end.
“I knew it would be tight and that I would be the first one across the line. I was like: ‘Let me know, let me know.’ When I got the message I got it, I was over the moon. The car has been fantastic this weekend.”
Bottas, who was the fastest driver on the race-simulation runs in Friday practice, said: “We can clearly see Ferrari was quicker today. We were close in the end but not quite enough. All weekend they have had the upper hand. They have been able to extract much more from the ultra-soft tyre.
“As always it is tomorrow that really counts. Second row start here is not so bad. It is a pretty long run into Turn One.”
Hamilton said: “Today we got more on top of the tyres, but Ferrari was just quicker. Ferrari’s pace is quicker than us in the race so it is going to be pretty hard. We will give it everything we’ve got.”
Red Bull losing ground
Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was best of the rest – but a massive 1.616secs off the pace. He headed Williams’ Felipe Massa – whose team-mate Lance Stroll was a second slower in 12th place – the second Red Bull of Max Verstappen and Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg.
The second Renault driver Jolyon Palmer had a difficult day, crashing out at the end of the first session while trying to make up the time to progress into the second session.
The Englishman will start 16th, one place behind McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, who complained he was losing as much as 1.3 seconds on the main straight alone thanks to the lack of power of the Honda engine.