Rain, a red flag and a shock result – qualifying for Formula 1’s Russian Grand Prix proved to be an unexpectedly dramatic affair.

Hamilton survived a big scare of coming within a second of qualifying down in 15th to snatching the 96th pole position of his career, while Max Verstappen split the Mercedes duo to take a surprise second.

Here’s a look at the drivers who shone at Sochi on Saturday…

Lewis Hamilton

Hamilton had been staring down the barrel of a very possible shock Q2 elimination after Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel’s crash stopped the session with the Mercedes driver yet to set a time, having had his first effort deleted for track limits.

That set up a dramatic finale to Q2 with Hamilton in a race against time to make it around the circuit to start a lap with just two minutes and 15 seconds left on the clock. He crossed the line with 1.1s remaining and was able to progress into the top-10 shootout.

Hamilton described the session as “one of the worst qualifyings, it was horrible” and admitted he had his “heart in the mouth the whole way”, yet he still delivered a flawless Q3 performance to banish what had been an uncharacteristically scrappy session up until that point.

Hamilton turned in two brilliant laps – both of which would have been good enough to top the session – on his way to ultimately beating Verstappen to pole by 0.563s, and outpacing Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas by 0.652s.

Max Verstappen

With Bottas unable to challenge Hamilton for pole, Verstappen stepped up to the plate as he so often has this year with a stunning lap to pip Bottas to second and earn himself an unexpected front-row start for Sunday’s race.

The Dutchman’s pace came as a surprise after Red Bull had appeared to struggle throughout practice, with Verstappen himself admitting after Friday that he would have a “tough” fight on his hands to even qualify third.

But he went one better than third, turning in a lap that was nearly 1.2s quicker than his 10th-placed teammate Alex Albon, to record Red Bull’s best-ever qualifying result at the Sochi Autodrom.

Verstappen felt his lap for second place was one of the best of his career so far, adding: “It felt really good. I was just trying to find the right balance. On the second run, made a few changes and they gave me more grip. You really need good entry grip on this track and it was a really nice lap to drive.”

Sergio Perez

Somewhat overshadowed by the drama unfolding around him, Perez quietly went about his business and pulled out a superlative final lap to seal fourth on the grid.

The Mexican felt he had squeezed the maximum out of his Racing Point car – which was not carrying a significant aero upgrade like his teammate Lance Stroll’s RP20 – on his way to qualifying just a second off Hamilton’s benchmark.

Perez snuck narrowly ahead of Ricciardo by just 0.047s thanks to his last-gasp Q3 effort that was equally as impressive as the ones which stole the headlines ahead of him as he took his best starting position of the year.

While Perez was left shocked by the speed managed by Verstappen, he conceded he realistically had no chance of getting close to the Red Bull driver. A sterling effort nonetheless.

Daniel Ricciardo

Ricciardo had been knocking on the door of the top five all weekend and even looked a strong bet to contend for third place on the grid, but Verstappen’s pace ultimately proved too great.

Just like at the Tuscan Grand Prix, Ricciardo’s fastest lap of qualifying was actually set in Q2 as he topped the session with an excellent effort to light up the timesheets.

He wasn’t quite able to translate that rapid pace into Q3 and while he may be slightly disappointed to have been pipped by Perez right at the end - having looked to boast the quicker package so far this weekend - it was yet another strong display from the Australian.

Following qualifying, Ricciardo said: “Overall, I’m happy with fifth position for tomorrow. 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.”

George Russell

Another wonderful showing by F1’s ‘Mr. Saturday’ as Russell made it into Q2 for the sixth time out of the opening 10 rounds of the 2020 season and continued to remind everyone of his star potential.

Russell was frustrated to have narrowly missed out on a Q2 berth at Mugello despite his fearless levels of commitment but he quickly erased that disappointment from his mind in Sochi.

A last-gasp improvement saw the Briton reach Q2 and knock out Romain Grosjean with a lap  that was over a full second quicker than what Nicholas Latifi was able to achieve in the sister Williams.

Russell then wisely opted to set his sole lap of Q2 when he ran solo during a mid-session lull just before qualifying was interrupted by Vettel’s crash. He pulled out a lap 0.5s faster than what he managed in Q1 to take a solid 14th on the grid ahead of Vettel’s Ferrari.

“Definitely as much as we hoped,” Russell concluded after the session. “We thought we were a bit behind the Alfas and the Haas, so that was our main goal to outqualify them.

“We obviously did that quite comfortably in Q1 and it was a really good lap. And just getting Sebastian at the end, which is a bonus. I’m very happy.”

 

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