Norris takes shock pole in Sochi qualifying, Ferrari's Sainz in P2

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Russia, Sochi International Street Circuitru

Although today's qualifying session was expected to turn out as an easy one-two result for Mercedes, McLaren's Lando Norris mastered the tricky weather conditions in the best way to secure his first F1 pole in front of Ferrari's Spanish racer Carlos Sainz. Lewis Hamilton took only 4th after making a series of mistakes in the last segment of the qualifying session.

Despite the heavy showers in the morning which led to the cancellation of the third practice session for the Russian Grand Prix, the qualifying session could take place without any delays.

The first segment of the session saw championship leader Max Verstappen complete only two laps before deciding to end his day early. The Dutchman will be forced to start tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix from the back of the field for taking his fourth fresh power unit. The penalty prompted him to limit his running today in order to save his allocation of tyres, his new PU and fresh gearbox.

After missing the last two races due to Covid-19 and making his comeback yesterday, Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen finished only in P16, meaning that he was the first driver to be eliminated from qualifying. His team mate Antonio Giovinazzi, who made a Q3 appearance in the last two qualifying sessions, ended the session in P18. The Italian caused a hairy moment when he span around at Turn 17 with Charles Leclerc narrowly crashing into his stricken Alfa Romeo car.

Haas started the weekend by announcing that their driver line-up will be unchanged for next year. The American team’s Mick Schumacher managed to beat Giovinazzi to qualify 17th with his team mate Nikita Mazepin securing the second-to-last starting position.

Although more rain was expected for the second part of qualiying, it did not materialize. In fact, conditions started to improve at the start of Q2, but Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc did not use the drying track as he also decided to bring his day to a premature end for the same reason as Verstappen.

Most of the drivers used two sets of intermediate tyres in the second part of qualifying in which tensions ran high in the midfield. When the chequered flag fell, Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly, Yuki Tsunoda and Nicholas Latifi found themselves in the knock-out zone.

The final part of qualifying saw every driver head back out on the intermediate compound. However, it became clear quite early on that the track was dry enough to take the risk to go for the slick tyres. Williams’ George Russell became the first driver to rush back to the Grove-based outfit’s garage for dry weather tyres.

That motivated then his rivals with the entire field quickly heading back for slick tyres. In the meantime, Hamilton, who looked like to take an easy pole position, hit the pit wall as he came in to change for slicks.

The Mercedes mechanics were able to change his front wing in time and check his car, but he lost valuable time, which meant he only had a single flying lap in the dying moments. The Briton was unable to generate necessary heat in his Pirelli soft tyres, failing to improve and claiming only P4 for tomorrow's Sochi race.

Most of the drivers were having a difficult time on the track as it was particularly difficult to warm the tyres up, but Norris, Sainz and Russell made the best of the conditions. In the end, it was the McLaren driver to string an eye-cathcing lap together, claiming his first ever career pole position.

Ferrari’s Spanish racer finished second with the soon-to-become Mercedes driver Russell ending up in P3. Monza race winner Ricciardo finished in P5, narrowly beating Alpine's two-time world champion Fernando Alonso. Bottas finished down in P7 with Lance Stroll, Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon completing the top ten.

14Lando NorrisMclaren Mercedes1:47.2381:45.8271:41.99323
255Carlos SainzFerrari1:47.9241:46.5211:42.51025
363George RussellWilliams Mercedes1:48.3031:46.4351:42.98326
444Lewis HamiltonMercedes1:45.9921:45.1291:44.05024
53Daniel RicciardoMclaren Mercedes1:48.3451:46.3611:44.15623
614Fernando AlonsoAlpine Renault1:47.8771:45.5141:44.20425
777Valtteri BottasMercedes1:46.3961:45.3061:44.71024
818Lance StrollAston Martin Mercedes1:48.3221:46.3601:44.95623
911Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing Honda1:46.4551:45.8341:45.33724
1031Esteban OconAlpine Renault1:48.0991:46.0701:45.86525
115Sebastian VettelAston Martin Mercedes1:47.2051:46.57318
1210Pierre GaslyAlphatauri Honda1:47.8281:46.64118
1322Yuki TsunodaAlphatauri Honda1:48.8541:46.75120
146Nicholas LatifiWilliams Mercedes1:48.25212
1516Charles LeclercFerrari1:48.47010
167Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari1:49.58610
1747Mick SchumacherHaas Ferrari1:49.83010
1899Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari1:51.0239
199Nikita MazepinHaas Ferrari1:53.76410
2033Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing Honda2