Charles Leclerc dominated qualifying for the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix to claim the sixth pole position of his career and fourth in succession.
Having topped two of the three practice sessions, the young Ferrari driver kept his powder dry in Qualifying 1 before showing his hand as the session wore on.
Leclerc’s strength became apparent with his opening lap in Qualifying 3 good enough for pole, but still managed to better it with his second effort as he confirmed his place on the front of the grid.
A late lap saw Lewis Hamilton claim second over Sebastian Vettel, with Max Verstappen fourth fastest over Valtteri Bottas.
“The car felt amazing, it definitely feels great to be back on pole, but I don’t know if it’s the best track to start on pole,” Leclerc said.
“The straight is very long after the start, so tomorrow the start will be very important as always, but here probably even more.
“There’s still a long way to go for tomorrow, but it’s definitely a good start,” he added.
“We’ve been competitive all weekend long and the race simulation seems positive too, so it’s looking good for tomorrow.”
During the session Vettel was forced to work hard, especially in the first phase of qualifying after he made a mistake on his first timed lap, and his second was interrupted when Robert Kubica left the road.
His third lap was then scuppered when Alex Albon found the wall, drawing the red flag and forcing Vettel out immediately as the green flag was shown to set a timed lap.
Albon’s spin at Turn 13 midway through the opening phase saw the Red Bull sustain heavy damage to the rear of his car and end his session.
Both Williams were also victims of the Qualifying 1 cut, with Kimi Raikkonen unable to progress for Alfa Romeo.
An engine failure in final practice saw Daniil Kvyat sit out the session, anchoring him to the back of the grid for Sunday’s race.
Qualifying 2 saw both Mercedes, with a view toward’s Sunday’s race where drivers start on the tyres used to set their best Q2 time, attempt to progress using the medium compound tyres.
Ferrari opted for a set of used soft compound tyres on their opening runs, which saw Leclerc fastest ahead of Vettel.
Their second runs saw brand new soft compound tyres fitted, Mercedes following suit on both Hamilton and Bottas’ cars too.
It failed to change the order at the top, with Leclerc ending the session ahead of Vettel, Verstappen, then Hamilton and Bottas.
Missing the cut were Pierre Gasly, Sergio Perez, Antonio Giovinazzi, Kevin Magnussen, and Lance Stroll.
Daniel Ricciardo narrowly made the grade, as did his Renault team-mate Nico Hulkenberg, the pair locking down ninth and 10th respectively.
The final phase of qualifying began with a four way shootout for provisional pole position, with Bottas the first to set a time.
His 1:32.6 scarcely settled before Hamilton crossed the line to go three tenths faster.
Next across the line was Vettel, who banked a 1:32.1 on his first timed lap, before Leclerc swept all before him to record a 1:31.801.
It was more than three tenths fastest than his Ferrari team-mate, and half a second clear of Hamilton.
A mistake on Vettel’s second flying lap saw the German only match his earlier effort to the first split, while behind him on track Leclerc was improving.
The Monegasque driver went a tenth quicker in the first split, and two tenths at the second, and though he dropped time in the final sector he still improved to a 1:31.628.
A late effort from Hamilton saw the championship leader split the Ferraris at the front, while Bottas fell to fifth as Verstappen also improved.
The result marked Leclerc’s fourth consecutive pole position, the first Ferrari driver to achieve the feat since Michael Schumacher at the start of the century.
Carlos Sainz was best of the rest in sixth from Hulkenberg and Lando Norris, the trio split by little more than a tenth of a second.
Romain Grosjean snared ninth while Ricciardo banked 10th, some four tenths away from team-mate Hulkenberg.
However, though qualifying set the order, the grid will be grid shaken up with five place penalties for Verstappen and Albon for new power unit components, while Kvyat and Kubica will be sent to the rear following their own out of schedule changes.
Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix is scheduled to begin at 2110 AEST.
Result: Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, Qualifying
|4||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Honda||1:33.368||1:32.634||1:32.310|
|6||55||Carlos Sainz||McLaren Renault||1:34.184||1:33.807||1:33.222|
|8||4||Lando Norris||McLaren Renault||1:34.201||1:33.725||1:33.301|
|9||8||Romain Grosjean||Haas Ferrari||1:34.283||1:33.643||1:33.517|
|11||10||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso Honda||1:34.456||1:33.950|
|12||11||Sergio Perez||Racing Point Mercedes||1:34.336||1:33.958|
|13||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||1:34.755||1:34.037|
|14||20||Kevin Magnussen||Haas Ferrari||1:33.889||1:34.082|
|15||18||Lance Stroll||Racing Point Mercedes||1:34.287||1:34.233|
|16||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||1:34.840|
|17||63||George Russell||Williams Mercedes||1:35.356|
|18||88||Robert Kubica||Williams Mercedes||1:36.474|
|19||23||Alexander Albon||Red Bull Honda||1:39.197|