F1 – Russian GP – Qualifying

Privet, MiniFans! Russia is upon us and we’ve landed in Sochi in the midst of an extremely rainy weekend. The cancellation of some of the weekend’s events was needed, such as support classes races and FP3, so whether qualifying would take place was still in the air. A small window of clearer weather allowed race direction to go ahead with the session.

It was clear that teams and drivers alike were fearful of a new downpour, so everyone got to the track to register a lap time before water came down again. They were all in intermediate tyres, save for Alonso, who had gone against the grain and chosen full wets that would eventually be proven to be the incorrect choice. Verstappen chose not to set a timed lap, as he’d still start from the back of the grid due to an engine change and the subsequent penalties. Meanwhile, Alonso, in a quest to redeem himself from his mistaken choice of tyres, settled himself among the top dogs in his first timed lap with intermediates. Despite the water on track, only a couple of spins and yellow flags due to them were seen, none ending up in an accident.  Williams, still riding the wave of great performances, got both cars through to Q2. Pérez, for the first time in a while, finally started doing the job he was hired for, tailing the Mercedes. The eliminated drivers in Q1 were Raikkonen (P16), Schumacher (P17), Giovinazzi (P18), Mazepin (P19) and Verstappen (P20, no time set).

The weather seemed to be mostly settled, giving drivers the chance to go back out in Q2 in intermediates. The track was still wet, but spray from back tyres diminished and a dry lane appeared, giving the drivers more confidence. Lap times dropped and kerbs slowly started being used, while Leclerc and Latifi, both suffering from grid penalties due to engine changes, didn’t set their lap times. In his last attempt, Russell did it again and made it to Q3 with his Williams, while Gasly, easily at the front during the rest of the weekend, could not do so. The eliminated drivers in Q2 were Vettel (P11), Gasly (P12), Tsunoda (P13), Latifi (P14, no time set) and Leclerc (P15, no time set).

The track was getting drier by the second, with sections of it ready for slicks, and Russell, with nothing to lose, was the first to ask his team to get them ready for him. With six minutes to go, he was the first brave soul to go out with soft tyres. He was soon copied by the rest of the grid, including Mercedes. A close shot of their pit stop showed Hamilton’s broken front wing after a small wall touch in the pit entry, who had to be wheeled forward and backward in order to allow his teammate to not be affected by it. The first laps in softs were disastrous, as it was not possible to heat the tyres up on the ice-cold track in just one lap. Second timed laps, however, painted purple sectors all over. Mercedes, not being able to warm their tyres up due to being the last ones into the pits, lost their expected first places in favour of the younger crowd: Norris, Sainz and Russell.

A front row lockout would have not been a surprise, following the free practices, the first two qualifying sessions and the first part of Q3. However, their future driver, Russell, shook the order upside down by taking the risk of changing the intermediates for slicks. Him, Sainz and Norris were the quickest and the ones who made no mistakes when it counted, unlike Hamilton, who had spun again in his fast lap. McLaren keeps their great spell going, with Norris getting his first pole position ever, while Ferrari and Williams got a second and third place that will be difficult to keep tomorrow. But, as always, only time will tell if this surprise keeps on going tomorrow.