Leclerc blows competition away to take pole at Sochi

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Russia, Sochi International Street Circuitru

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc is becoming the qualifying reference this season as he secured his 4th straight pole position. Lewis Hamilton surprised himself to take second while Sebastian Vettel in third was disappointed not to have done better.

On the back of a very successful final practice session, Ferrari were out early in qualifying to get the first session done as soon as possible. After times from both Williams drivers, Leclerc went fastest on soft tyres. Vettel went on for another 2 laps, but he failed to make the soft tyre gamble work, ending up 5s slower than Leclerc's effort. Traffic and a yellow flag caused by Kubica missing a corner didn't help Vettel's case for sure.

Halfway into the session, Verstappen, and then Hamilton topped Leclerc's time with a run of soft tyres. Leclerc was set to improve on his first effort with another run on mediums when Albon crashed out, causing the session to be stopped, and hence forcing all drivers to return to the track.

For Red Bull's Albon, the session was over, as he rear into the barriers after failing to catch some oversteer. With 6 minutes left on the clock, this left Vettel in 19th only, ahead of Kvyat who was unable to set a time due to technical issues on his car.

The German Ferrari driver was eager to get out when the session restarted, this time on softs. It proved the safest approach, enabling the him to set the fastest time of the session, a tenth quicker than what Hamilton had managed earlier on.

At the back, the battle to get away from the bottom 5 grid positions was mainly among the two Alfa drivers, with Giovinazzi becoming the only Alfra driver to progress to Q2 when Raikkonen made a slight mistake in the final corner. The Finn lost out to his team mate by 0.085s.

The second part of qualifying kicked off with both Mercedes going out on track on mediums. More than a full minute later, all others went out, but all of them on softs, including both Ferrari drivers.

Once again, it was Leclerc who emerged fastest, 6 tenths clear of Vettel, Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas, who all seemed closely matched. Gasly was 6th after his first lap, but as he failed to improve later on, he dropped to 11th, and got eliminated.

Grosjean meanwhile surprised to go 6th fastest, securing a spot among the top 10 which included also both McLaren and Renault cars.

Lando Norris then kicked off Q3, followed by Sainz and the Renault duo. Mercedes and Ferrari were up next, and curiously, timed dropped as cars crossed the finish line, with first Bottas, then Hamilton, Vettel and eventually Leclerc, who turned out fastest after the first flying laps. Max Verstappen was 5th, partly thanks to overshooting the final corner.

Leclerc's advantage was more than 3 tenths after the first lap, but he managed to increase the gap to Vettel even more with his second outing, even while he was totally unhappy by his final sector. Vettel didn't improve, enabling Hamilton to take second spot with another improvement, ending up at 4 tenths of Leclerc.

Bottas even aborted his second lap, ending qualifying a full second slower than Leclerc's best.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarQ1Q2Q3Laps
116Charles LeclercFerrari1:33.6131:32.4341:31.62817
244Lewis HamiltonMercedes AMG1:33.2301:33.1341:32.03018
35Sebastian VettelFerrari1:33.0321:32.5361:32.05321
433Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing Honda1:33.3681:32.6341:32.31015
577Valtteri BottasMercedes AMG1:33.4131:33.2811:32.63218
655Carlos SainzMcLaren Renault1:34.1841:33.8071:33.22220
727Nico HulkenbergRenault1:34.2361:33.8981:33.28915
84Lando NorrisMcLaren Renault1:34.2011:33.7251:33.30120
98Romain GrosjeanHaas Ferrari1:34.2831:33.6431:33.51719
103Daniel RicciardoRenault1:34.1381:33.8621:33.66118
1110Pierre GaslyScuderia Toro Rosso Honda1:34.4561:33.950-13
1211Sergio PerezRacing Point BWT Mercedes1:34.3361:33.958-14
1399Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari1:34.7551:34.037-14
1420Kevin MagnussenHaas Ferrari1:33.8891:34.082-13
1518Lance StrollRacing Point BWT Mercedes1:34.2871:34.233-14
167Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari1:34.840--8
1763George RussellWilliams Mercedes1:35.356--8
1888Robert KubicaWilliams Mercedes1:36.474--8
1923Alexander AlbonRed Bull Racing Honda1:39.197--4

Note - Verstappen, Albon and Gasly each penalised 5 grid places for use of additional power unit elements. Kvyat and Kubica required to start race from back of grid due to multiple power unit element changes. Kvyat races at stewards' discretion after failing to set a qualifying time.