Norris claims surprise Russian GP pole
By Mat Coch
Saturday 25th September, 2021 - 11:10pm
Lando Norris has claimed pole position for the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix after an unpredictable mixed-conditions qualifying session.
Norris recorded his best lap at the death knell on slick conditions on a drying track in a session that saw Lewis Hamilton clout the wall in pit lane.
The Mercedes driver will start fourth, Carlos Sainz on the front row with George Russell third.
Qualifying got underway in wet conditions, though the torrential rain that saw Free Practice 3 cancelled had abated.
Earlier track action had been called off as the medical helicopter was unable to fly, and roads to the nearby hospital were flooded.
All bar Fernando Alonso headed out on a set of intermediates immediately as the session got underway.
Pierre Gasly was the first to set a lap, recording a 1:51.519s – nearly 20 seconds away from the times set in dry conditions earlier in the weekend.
The Frenchman remained on track and completed a second timed lap to lower his best to 1:49.218s.
Max Verstappen ventured out despite the Dutchman resigned to starting Sunday’s race from the rear of the grid following a power unit change ahead of Free Practice 2.
Charles Leclerc, who also had a new power unit, had a near miss as Antonio Giovinazzi spun, also took to the circuit despite facing the same fate as Verstappen.
In the garage, Verstappen climbed out of his car, his session done with just two laps to his name.
On track, Lewis Hamilton went fastest with a 1:46.937s, Valtteri Bottas second with a 1:48.100s.
With five minutes to run in the final segment, Sergio Perez improved to a 1:46.455s to move to the top of the totem, Alonso rising to third having swapped his wet tyres for inters.
Bottas hit back to record a 1:46.396s in the final two minutes, inching clear of Perez’s best.
At the chequered flag, joining Verstappen on the sidelines were Kimi Raikkonen, Mick Schumacher, Giovinazzi, and Nikita Mazepin.
Conditions improved as Qualifying 2 began, though intermediates were still the order of the day.
Gasly was again the early pacesetter, 1:46.671s his first marker.
That time didn’t stand for long, Hamilton and Lando Norris both going faster, the former recording a 1:46.096s to become the new benchmark.
Bottas promptly went half a second faster still, a 1:45.506s the result.
Provisional pole turned into a tug of war between the two Mercedes drivers, Hamilton responding with a 1:45.406s.
Norris remained third best while Alonso rose to third, Daniel Ricciardo languishing outside the top 10 with five minutes remaining in the segment.
Ricciardo improved to 1:46.976s to climb to 10th fastest, though only 0.015s quicker than George Russell in 11th.
In the final moments of the segment, conditions had visibly improved; the plumes of spray evident earlier now absent.
Hamilton improved late on, a 1:45.129s moving him some 0.4s clear of Bottas in second.
As the chequered flag fell, Ricciardo remained at risk in 10th, climbing to seventh with his final effort.
Missing out were Sebastian Vettel, Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda, Nicholas Latifi, and Leclerc.
Early running in Qualifying 3 saw intermediate tyres fitted to all 10 runners, though conditions were fast approaching the crossover point for slicks.
Hamilton went fastest on his banker lap, a 1:44.050s set on the intermediates.
Russell was the first to make the swap to the dry weather tyres, making the change without setting a time on intermediates.
Immediately out of the box he pushed in an effort to maintain tyre temperature on the wet pit lane.
Lance Stroll, Carlos Sainz, and both McLaren drivers quickly followed suit.
As Hamilton headed into the lane, the seven-time champ slid into the pit wall damaging his front wing.
There wasn’t a spare on standby, delaying his exit as the team dragged him out of the pit box to allow Bottas the opportunity to be serviced and rejoin the session.
Hamilton’s W12 was repaired and sent back out after a slight delay, getting back on track with little over two minutes remaining.
Russell showed the initial lap on slicks did not produce the lap time, the Williams only beginning to turn in personal best micro sectors on his second lap – his first representative timed lap was a 1:49.975s to remain 10th.
Hamilton started his only slick-shod flying lap with 30 seconds remaining.
The timing sheets were soon ablaze with green and purple micro sectors as conditions continued to improve, though Hamilton was not among them.
The chequered flag fell, Sainz rising to pole with 1:42.510s for Ferrari.
Ricciardo also improved, climbing to fourth, which became fifth when Norris went fastest on 1:41.993s.
Russell also improved to move up to third, while Hamilton was unable to generate the temperature he needed, spinning and abandoning the lap.
Behind the top five, Alonso will start sixth ahead of Bottas, Stroll, Perez, and Esteban Ocon.
Results: Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, Qualifying
|8||18||Lance Stroll||Aston Martin||1:48.322||1:46.360||1:44.956|
|9||11||Sergio Perez||Red Bull Racing||1:46.455||1:45.834||1:45.337|
|11||5||Sebastian Vettel||Aston Martin||1:47.205||1:46.573|
|12||10||Pierre Gasly||Scuderia AlphaTauri||1:47.828||1:46.641|
|13||22||Yuki Tsunoda||Scuderia AlphaTauri||1:48.854||1:46.751|
|16||7||Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:49.586|
|18||99||Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:51.023|
|20||33||Max Verstappen||Red Bull Racing|