Formula 1 Russia: Lando Norris Storms to Maiden Pole
McLaren’s young star exceled in tricky conditions to take his first F1 pole ahead of Carlos Sainz and George Russell.
Saturday in Sochi turned out to be a lot more exciting than expected after a Friday dominated by Mercedes, where Lando Norris pipped Carlos Sainz to take pole at the final seconds of Q3. The qualifying session started off with moderate rain prompting teams to send their drivers out on intermediate compounds, and slowly dried out by the end of Q3 which saw the top ten scrambling for slicks and a competitive laptime.
The first qualifying session started off with all drivers bar Fernando Alonso running intermediates, as Alonso tried the wet compounds on his sighting lap before quickly changing his mind. Max Verstappen, who was due to start on the back of the grid following his engine change, also went for a sighting lap before the team decided it was best to preserve his car and not take any risks. The first drivers to be eliminated besides Verstappen were Mazepin, Giovinazzi, Schumacher and Raikkonen, where Mazepin struggled to make an impression at home being 4 seconds off his own teammate, and nearly 8 seconds behind the quickest Q1 time.
While conditions started to improve in Q2, Charles Leclerc and Nicholas Latifi both sat out of the session as they have received the same engine penalties Verstappen had. With less to compete for a Q3 spot, it was quite an intense session for the midpack, which saw a handful of drivers sending one another to the elimination zone. At the end it was Sebastian Vettel who narrowly lost 10th to Carlos Sainz by 0.052s, sending him to elimination alonside the AlphaTauri pair of Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, while George Russell made his fourth Q3 advancement of the season.
The final qualifying session saw the track drying up gradually, although the drivers still went to set their first flying laps on intermediates, with Lewis Hamilton leading the field setting a 1m 44.050s laptime. Seeing the rapidly drying track surface and having nothing to lose, Russell made a gamble to switch to slick compounds, prompting the field to do the same. While Hamilton entered the pitlane, he lost control of his car and drifted to the pitwall, damaging his front wing and forcing his crew to scramble and have his front wing replaced quickly. The initial laptimes with slick tyres were slower and it looked as if it was the wrong decision, until Sainz started posting purple sectors on his final flying lap taking a provisional pole, only to be beaten by Norris seconds later. Russell once again impressed in tricky conditions to place his Williams 3rd on the grid, while Hamilton spun on his flying lap attempt, ending his own chances of a pole and ending the day in 4th. Italian Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo ended the day in 5th, ahead of Fernando Alonso. Valtteri Bottas was left waiting in the pitlane as Hamilton’s wing had to be replaced, and he eventually failed to improve his laptime on the slicks and ended 7th ahead of Lance Stroll. Sergio Perez was another driver not to improve on slicks, ending a disappointing 9th ahead of Esteban Ocon.
The eventful session saw Lando Norris taking his first ever Formula 1 pole, as well as McLaren’s first since the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2012, set by Lewis Hamilton in his final race with the Woking outfit.
Featured Image – McLaren Media