MEDIA RELEASE/Aston martin F1 Team - Photo: supplied Otmar, what does it mean to you…
It was a 7-10 spilt for the all-conquering AMG Petronas Mercedes team in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix. After topping the time sheets on day 1, Valtteri Bottas was once again outgunned by Lewis Hamilton in qualifying, who claimed his 96th pole position. To add insult to injury for the Finn, a slight error saw the Mercedes airborne for a fraction of a second which compromised his final lap. Max Verstappen found some pace in his Aston Martin Red Bull and managed to spilt the pair. At the other end of the field it was a disappointing day for Sebastian Vettel, who failed to progress past Q2 after a hefty crash into the wall.
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A change in the wind had driver’s scratching their head during the first session of qualifying. Of particular concern was the second corner, which caught out many. Hamilton’s first flying lap in Q1 was cancelled after the #44 was judged to have exceeded the track limit at that turn 2. Another run with 7 minutes remaining saw Hamilton jump into second place behind Bottas. As the cars went out for one last fyling lap, Esteban Ocon was at risk of missing out as he sat back in 16th place. He crossed the line to record the 3rd fastest time with 2 seconds left in the session. George Russell and Sebastian Vettel sat in the elimination zone as the chequered flag came out during their last laps. Russell soared into 13th, while Vettel scraped through in 15th, one place behind teammate Leclerc. Grosjean, Giovinazzi, Magnussen, Latifi and Raikkonen were the ones to miss out on Q2
Sebastian Vettel brought out the red flag with a little over 2 minutes left in the session. The Ferrari driver touched the orange sausage kerb at turn 4, which unsettled the rear end of the car. It snapped around and spun into the outside barriers, ripping of the front wing and damaging both the front and rear corner of the #5 Ferrari. A major accident was avoided moments later when Charles Leclerc came across the strike car on the racing line. He somehow managed to weave around Vettel’s wreck but ran over the detached wing and shards of carbon fibre.
“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” a stunned Leclerc told his team as he toured back to the pits under the red flag.
While most of the fancy runners sat well inside the top 10, Lewis Hamilton was back on 15th and in danger of missing the cut for Q3. Ricciardo sat at the top of the time sheet from Bottas, Sainz, Perez and Norris at the time. The ideal race strategy was to post a Q2 time with the medium compound tyres for the race start. The delay forced Mercedes to switch Hamilton to the soft tyre. He completed the one flying lap to grab 4th place, which pushed Leclerc out of Q3.
“Firstly I’ve got to say a big, big hi to all the fans that are here. I’ve missed the fans so much through the year and I can’t tell you how great it is to see people,” Hamilton said to Sky Sports. “I hope everyone’s got their masks on and are staying safe. You know, this morning when I left the hotel I had a couple of fans there. They had their ‘Black Lives Matter’ mask on and I was just so humbled by everyone’s support and how everyone kind of was this year. Pretty great to see everybody. The session was one of the worst qualifying sessions, it was horrible. No, heart in you mouth the whole way. The first one, I had the time taken away obviously, which was the first time I have gone wide there the whole weekend. I wanted to stay out to do another lap and get a banker, but they said, ‘Come in and get the new tyres.’ Then the red flag came out. There was a real risk when we came out on that tyre in the end. Ultimately I am starting on the soft tyre which is not good. It’s nice to be on pole but this place is probably the worst to be on pole with the drag of our cars this year. Undoubtably I am going to get dragged past tomorrow”
For Daniel Ricciardo, 5th for the race was a good result, but tinged with a slight bitter sweet. After P2 and P3 on Friday, he had been at the pointy end during Q2, though ended his final lap slightly below his best time for the weekend.
“Overall, I’m happy with fifth position for tomorrow,” Ricciardo reported to Renault Sport Media. “I knew we weren’t in contention for pole position, but after the Q2 lap it felt like third or fourth was in reach. That lap in Q2 was perfect, so I knew it was going to be hard to improve on that. I did struggle a little more in Q3 and probably could have improved my time, but I am happy with where we ended up. I haven’t normally been strong at this circuit so to be quick all weekend is a positive. We can definitely race tomorrow so it should be fun.”
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