F1 2021 Russian Grand Prix: Qualifying report: Norris takes his first pole in tricky conditions
Rain stopped play earlier this morning as the thunder storms rolled over the Sochi Autodrome. No running in the morning gave this session a bit more mystery to the outcome. But one thing was for sure, Max Verstappen would not be on pole.
Verstappen had taken a completely new engine for this race and would start at the back of the grid. The same would happen for Charles Leclerc as well.
The rain had cleared in time for qualifying so the session could start on time, so let’s get straight into the qualifying action!
The rain had ended, and it was time for Q1.
Most drivers opted for the intermediate tyres, but with no running in the wet on this track Fernando Alonso went for a set of the wet tyres.
With no rain expected throughout the session, the track was getting faster with every car that went round.
Even though the grip was improving, it wasn’t easy for all drivers. Sergio Perez struggled on his first lap and was well off the pace of Pierre Gasly who was fastest after the first run of laps.
Antonio Giovinazzi also wasn’t having the best time in the damp conditions. He was a bit too eager on the accelerator and spun his car on the exit of turn 16. He was lucky not to collect Charles Leclerc who wasn’t far behind the Alfa Romeo, but Leclerc was able to continue on his way.
Normality started to restore as the session went on. Hamilton topped the timing sheets with Bottas behind, but behind the two flying Mercedes, the order was far from normal.
Latifi was up in 6th, ahead of both Ferraris and McLarens. But most importantly the elimination zone was looking much more familiar. With the exception of Verstappen who was not participating, it was the two Alfa Romeos and the Haas cars who occupied the bottom four.
Russell looked to be the only one in danger of dropping into the bottom five, only two tenths of a second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen.
Russell went faster and it gave him 1.3 seconds faster than Raikkonen which would be enough to see him safe as the iceman dropped out of qualifying. Schumacher was also improving but it wasn’t enough either.
Both Williams through to Q2.
Eliminated: Raikkonen (16th), Schumacher (17th), Giovinazzi (18th), Mazepin (19th), Verstappen (20th)
Q2 started and it was the intermediate tyres once again. We saw the track performance start to improve through Q1, but it looked as though the wet tyres would be here to stay through Q2.
Lando Norris didn’t seem to have any fear of the wet conditions after his big crash in Spa as he put in a mega effort to be only 0.158 seconds behind Lewis Hamilton after his first run. The same couldn’t be said for Daniel Ricciardo. He was 1.3 off Lando and just couldn’t put a decent lap together.
Bottas had a moment at turn 2 on his first lap which hindered his first flying lap, but on his second attempt he went straight to the top of the timing sheets.
But it wasn’t for long as Lewis fought back to go a tenth faster than the Finn. Lewis didn’t stop there as he went even faster to put in the best position going into Q3
Williams chose a weird strategy with Nicholas Latifi. Latifi was sat in the pits for a long time before he was allowed out on track to set a lap time. He would only get a single flying lap to see what he could do.
He would have to jump Tsunoda, Sainz, Russell and Ricciardo if he wanted to get into Q3. Both Sainz and Ricciardo went faster.
George Russell put in a mega time to go 9th fastest and push Sebastian Vettel out of Q2. Carlos Sainz was very fortunate that Tsunoda couldn’t improve and Latifi didn’t set a lap time and scraped through.
Eliminated: Vettel (11th), Gasly (12th), Tsunoda (13th), Latifi (14th), Leclerc (15th)
Q3 time and still the intermediate tyres were still the preferred tyre for all the drivers. But there was a clear line that was drying. The track was cold so it would be a tricky task, but it could be worth a go.
Russell was the first to tell his team to prepare slick tyres and as the cars were going round, it was clear to see that the level of spray in most parts of the tracks was little to none.
But all drivers committed to do a banker lap on the intermediate tyres to get a time on the board.
It was Lewis Hamilton who was on provisional pole position, with Lando Norris ahead of Bottas in second. Alonso was in 4th place.
Russell was the first to change for the soft tyres and would be able to complete the most amount of laps.
The rest of the field started to follow suit with the McLarens and the Alpines straight onto a set of the softs.
Mercedes looked to leave it late and this went from bad to worse as Hamilton hit the wall on the entry to the pits and broke his front wing. It looked like it would cost him precious time to get out there and get some temperature in his tyres.
It would come down to the final laps to set faster times as the green sectors started to creep in.
Ocon failed to improve. Stroll did improve. Sainz went fastest.
Lando went purple in the middle sector and put his McLaren on pole position ahead of his old team-mate. In third place was George Russell who judged the session to perfection to put his car in a brilliant position.
Hamilton spun on his final lap and could not improve his lap.