Russian GP Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton beats Max Verstappen after Sebastian Vettel crash
Hamilton survives not one but two qualifying scares after Vettel's Q2 crash and a post-session investigation; Verstappen beats Bottas to front-row start; Perez fourth ahead of Ricciardo, Sainz
By Matt Morlidge
Last Updated: 26/09/20 6:36pm
Lewis Hamilton took a dramatic pole position for the Russian GP despite a post-qualifying investigation and an early-exit scare, while Max Verstappen beat Valtteri Bottas to the front row in an epic shootout.
"It was horrible!" admitted the record-chasing Hamilton of his Saturday, having avoided a penalty after being summoned to stewards for an alleged track limits infringement early on in the session, and having almost missed out on being in the pole fight altogether following Sebsatian Vettel's crash.
Hamilton, who can equal Michael Schumacher's tally of 91 Formula 1 wins this weekend, made it through to the final shootout by the skin of his teeth - only starting an all-important Q2 lap with one second to spare after Vettel's big Ferrari shunt led to a red flag.
But he then dusted himself down to dominate.
In Q3, Hamilton stormed clear of Bottas, who has had the edge for much of the weekend, before improving again on his final lap, putting well over half a second between himself and his Mercedes team-mate.
Bottas was off-colour when it mattered most, as Verstappen then pipped him with one of his "best ever" laps - the Red Bull star 0.563s slower than the pole-sitter but crucially on the front row for the first time since F1 2020's second round.
Verstappen and Bottas may have the edge over Hamilton at the start of the race, however, with both drivers set to start on the more durable medium tyre compared to the championship leader on the softs.
Sergio Perez secured fourth for Racing Point in a hectic shootout, ahead of Renault's Daniel Ricciardo and Carlos Sainz in the McLaren, with Alex Albon only 10th in the other Red Bull.
Neither Ferrari made it through to Q3. Leclerc, who made contact with Vettel's front wing after his spin and Q2 shunt, just missed out, while Vettel never looked likely to progress even before his crash at Turn Four.
Russian GP Qualifying result
1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
2. Max Verstappen, Red Bull
3. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
4. Sergio Perez, Racing Point
5. Daniel Ricciardo, Renault
6. Carlos Sainz, McLaren
7. Esteban Ocon, Renault
8. Lando Norris, McLaren
9. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
10. Alex Albon, Red Bull
How Hamilton escaped dramatic qualy with pole
Hamilton has the 95th pole of his career - although it was by no means an easy journey to get there on Saturday.
Hamilton ultimately courted controversy on his very first lap of the afternoon, running wide at Turn Two and getting his time deleted, before failing to return to the track in the correct manner.
That's why he had to face stewards, along with Haas drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen, and Williams' Nicholas Latifi. No further action was taken.
Hamilton running wide would then, indirectly, get him in more trouble in Q2.
After breaching track limits at the final corner on his first lap in that segment on medium tyres, Hamilton had his time deleted and Mercedes opted to swap him onto fresh rubber for one final lap at the end of the Q2.
Hamilton was comfortably up on a time which would see him progress but, as he made his way around the final sector, Vettel had a big crash on his lap which led to a red flag of the session. Leclerc ran over Vettel's front wing and barely avoided a major accident himself.
That incident paused the Q2 clock with just two minutes' and 15 seconds remaining meaning drivers, including Hamilton - who was 15th and without a time on the board - would have to get out of the pits and make their way to the start-line before the timer struck zero to start their pivotal flying laps.
Hamilton, who fitted fresh soft tyres as Mercedes had to alter strategy, found himself towards the back of a long queue in the pit-lane and there would have been further panic from inside the cockpit and the Merc garage as, after being urged to overtake cars on what would have to be a very rapid out-lap, Hamilton ran wide at Turn Two.
"You've got to go, you've got to go!" urged a usually calm Mercedes engineer Pete Bonnington as Hamilton looked to give himself room out of the final corner. Somehow, he made it to the line to start his lap in time - by just 1.25s, according to Sky F1's David Croft.
Although his flying lap was badly disrupted thanks to that fast out-lap, Hamilton safely made it through to the final shootout in fourth, and then promptly produced his most dominant form of the weekend.
He was 0.7s faster than Bottas on his first lap, and while the Finn had a big improvement on his next effort - Hamilton also went faster.
Verstappen deserves huge credit, too, for his brilliant lap, out-pacing Bottas by a tenth.
Meanwhile, Perez solely, and excellently, delivered for Racing Point, who lost Lance Stroll in Q2 after an issue, with the Mexican beating Ricciardo, who has been fast all weekend.
George Russell was also a qualifying star, securing his sixth Q2 of the season in the Williams and ensuring he has still never been beaten on a Saturday in his almost two-season F1 career.
Russian GP Qualifying Timesheet
|1) Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes||1:31.304|
|2) Max Verstappen||Red Bull||+0.563|
|3) Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes||+0.652|
|4) Sergio Perez||Racing Point||+1.013|
|5) Daniel Ricciardo||Renault||+1.060|
|6) Carlos Sainz||McLaren||+1.246|
|7) Esteban Ocon||Renault||+1.320|
|8) Lando Norris||McLaren||+1.543|
|9) Pierre Gasly||AlphaTauri||+1.696|
|10) Alexander Albon||Red Bull||+1.704|
|Knocked out in Q2|
|11) Charles Leclerc||Ferrari||1:33.239|
|12) Daniil Kvyat||AlphaTauri||1:33.249|
|13) Lance Stroll||Racing Point||1:33.364|
|14) George Russell||Williams||1:33.583|
|15) Sebastian Vettel||Ferrari||1:33.609|
|Knocked out in Q1|
|16) Romain Grosjean||Haas||1:34.592|
|17) Antonio Giovinazzi||Alfa Romeo||1:34.594|
|18) Kevin Magnussen||Haas||1:34.681|
|19) Nicholas Latifi||Williams||1:35.066|
|20) Kimi Raikkonen||Alfa Romeo||1:35.267|