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Game on! Historic first front-row lock out for Ferrari since 2008 in Russian F1 Qualifying

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Game on! Historic first front-row lock out for Ferrari since 2008 in Russian F1 Qualifying
Apr 29, 2017, 3:13 PM

Sebastian Vettel grabbed pole in qualifying for the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, as Ferrari took a historic one-two for the first time since the...

Sebastian Vettel grabbed pole in qualifying for the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix, as Ferrari took a historic one-two for the first time since the 2008 French GP.

Vettel was beaming after earning his first pole of the season and his first since Singapore 2015.  Qualifying has been Ferrari's Achilles Heel for a decade and especially in the hybrid turbo era.

In Q3 it looked like he would fall behind his team mate Kimi Raikkonen. However, it was his last attempt, after a false start affected by a Red Bull in his eyeline in Turn 2, on which he set the fastest time of 1m33.194s, 0.059s ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen.

“In Q3 the first run wasn't tidy, so I left it to the end. I knew it would be tight, I knew also I would be the first one to cross the line, but then I immediately opened the radio to ask about everybody else. When I got the message that we got [pole], obviously I was over the moon,” said Vettel.

Raikkonen missed out on a potential pole-position by running wide on his final lap. He will take second on the grid. His last front-row start was at Monza in 2015.

Mercedes were second best for the first time in what seems an eternity and it truly is game on now that Ferrari has managed to unlock one lap speed.

Bottas and Hamilton will line up third and fourth after neither driver managed to find improvement from Q2 to Q3, highly unusual.

Bottas was 0.095s away from pole, though the Finn has never been out-qualified by a team-mate at Sochi and he continued that run today, as Hamilton struggled to set a competitive lap, the car always seeming to fight him and the ultrasoft tyres clearly not in the condition on the Mercedes in which he wanted them.

Hamilton missed out on a would-be 250th pole-position for a British driver as he almost came together with Renault's Nico Hulkenberg on his out-lap.

“Hulkenberg's driving quite dangerously”, Hamilton said, having had to dodge the yellow Renault repeatedly, but he later regressed, “it takes a lot more than that to unsettle me”.

“I think we really got on top of the tyres. Ferrari is just quickest. Ferrari's pace is quicker in the race. It's shown in the past. I don't think it's the easiest track to follow with this long straight,” said a dejected Hamilton.

The 2015 champion did seem rattled and put in a relatively messy qualification lap, more than half a second slower than Vettel's.

The top-10 will all be on ultra-softs after a very competitive final session. Daniel Ricciardo took fifth for Red Bull, 1.711s off the top spot. Team Principal Christian Horner foresaw the events of Q3, having said after Q2:

“[Ricciardo's] got a couple of corners he needs to tidy up on. We've seen it so many times that Daniel can pull it out of the bag in Q3.

“For sure Massa is the threat. Williams are historically quick here, so it's going to be tough. The best we've ever qualified here is sixth. [The track] is evolving...The circuit gets better and better.”

Felipe Massa obliged and split the Red Bulls by finishing 0.049s ahead of Max Verstappen. Williams team-mate Lance Stroll just missed out on Q3 as Force India's Sergio Perez knocked him out of the top-10 in the previous session.

Hulkenberg finished ahead of his former team as his Renault will start eighth at Sochi. Force India qualified in ninth and tenth, as Ocon made it into Q3 for the first time in his career.

Williams' Massa masters midfield melee

A flurry of team colours darted around the centre of the leaderboard throughout the day as the midfield battle remains very close.

It was the white Williams of Massa which finished highest. Massa took fifth in Q2 ahead of the Red Bulls. Then, in Q3 he split the two cars by qualifying sixth.

Williams have a solid record in Russia and the team has finished in the top-four at every Sochi race so far, having qualified in the top-three for the same. Now that Bottas has left for Mercedes, Massa out-qualified his team-mate for the first time here.

New team-mate Stroll showed some promise by splitting the Force Indias in Q1, placed 11th, less than a tenth behind Perez. In the following session he was knocked out of the top-10 by a marauding Perez who ensured that both Force India runners would be in Q3.

Force India might be worried by Renault and Williams having gained a foothold at the top of the midfield but there were positives as Esteban Ocon made it to Q3 for the first time in his career and both finished ahead of Toro Rosso.

Carlos Sainz Jr and Daniil Kvyat start 11th and 13th having been knocked out in Q2.

Haas couldn't make their long-runs count in FP3. The team switched brake suppliers back to Brembo but Grosjean still constantly complained of a lack of balance. He was unlucky to be relegated in Q1, though the Frenchman's frustration was plain to see.

A torrid 24-hours continued for Jolyon Palmer, his Renault needing a full power-unit change after he couldn't complete a lap of FP3. Then, he spun out at the end of Q1 after he clipped the kerb at turn 4. That yellow flag sent out Grosjean.

Stoffel Vandoorne, who qualified 17th, will start last with a 15-place grid penalty for exceeding four engine-uses this season. His team-mate Fernando Alonso made it out of Q1 but ended up at the back of Q2, in 15th.

Start Russian GP 2015

What will happen in the race?

With very low degradation from the tyres, the strategy is pretty straight forward, as we predicted with one stop the way to go and it's a case of running on the ultrasoft to at least lap 25 and then picking the right moment to switch to the supersoft. The key to it will be the warm up slope for each car on that supersoft tyre, to determine how realistic the idea of an undercut might be; pitting before the car in front and using the fresh tyre pace to be ahead when he pits to cover you. Cars that struggle to get the supersoft switched on quickly will have a frustrating afternoon!

Vettel was fast on the long runs on Friday on ultrasofts, Raikkonen less so. Mercedes is more comfortable on the supersofts, but doesn't appear to have an advantage. It's all about the start for them; can Bottas or Hamilton split the Ferraris or get ahead? Historically you need to be on the front row to win Sochi, but that's also distorted by the fact that F1 has only raced at Sochi since Mercedes began dominating the hybrid era.

However overtaking is expected to be difficult tomorrow.

In the midfield Force India lost out in qualifying but have a quick race car, similar to the Williams. Massa will struggle to stay with the Red Bulls as he is much harder on the tyres.

We are likely to see a Safety Car in the race, which can change the strategy if it falls at the right/wrong moment, as we have seen already this season already.

Is this the start of Ferrari's dominance? Will Mercedes come back? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below or head over to the JA on F1 Facebook page for more discussion.

Russian Grand Prix, Grid:

POSITION

DRIVER

CAR

GAP

1

Sebastian Vettel

Ferrari

1m33.194s

2

Kimi Raikkonen

Ferrari

0.059s

3

Valtteri Bottas

Mercedes

0.095s

4

Lewis Hamilton

Mercedes

0.573s

5

Daniel Ricciardo

Red Bull

1.711s

6

Felipe Massa

Williams

1.916s

7

Max Verstappen

Red Bull

1.967s

8

Nico Hulkenberg

Renault

2.091s

9

Sergio Perez

Force India

2.143s

10

Esteban Ocon

Force India

2.236s

11

Lance Stroll

Williams

2.770s

12

Daniil Kvyat

Toro Rosso

2.774s

13

Kevin Magnussen

Haas

2.823s

14

Carlos Sainz

Toro Rosso

2.754s

15

Fernando Alonso

McLaren

3.466s

16

Jolyon Palmer

Renault

3.268s

17

Pascal Wehrlein

Sauber

4.138s

18

Marcus Ericsson

Sauber

4.313s

19

Romain Grosjean

Haas

4.426s

20

Stoffel Vandoorne

McLaren

3.876s

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