Valtteri Bottas says he does not understand why he struggled with balance issues on his Mercedes Formula 1 car throughout Russian Grand Prix qualifying.

While Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton was able to earn a front-row starting berth by splitting the Ferrari duo, Bottas, who usually excels at Sochi, could only set the fifth-fastest time and was slower than Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.

Bottas aborted his final Q3 run after suffering a snap under braking at Turn 14, and the Finn explained how the issue proved a persistent problem throughout the session.

“It was tricky today,” he said. “In the last sector, in Turn 13, pretty much in every lap, sometimes a bigger one, sometimes a smaller one, but I always had a snap.

“On both runs in Q3 I just couldn’t drive around the issue. I always had the snap, so then the rear tyres would overheat and that was it for Sector 3.

“It was really, really difficult and I don’t really understand why.”

Bottas ultimately ended up a full second off the pace of polesitter Charles Leclerc and was six-tenths adrift of Hamilton.

He will move up one position to start Sunday’s race from fourth once Verstappen’s engine-related grid penalty is applied.

Bottas remains hopeful about his race-day prospects with both drivers starting on Medium tyres after Mercedes opted for a different strategy to its chief rival Ferrari.

Speaking about his chances, Bottas added: “I think we thought that even if we’d been in the front row Ferrari would get us at the start, so I think we still have everything to play for.”