Lewis Hamilton eager to take advantage of Max Verstappen's Russian GP back-of-grid start as wet qualifying looms
Lewis Hamilton says Mercedes one-two at the Russian GP would be "spectacular" if they capitalise on Max Verstappen's engine penalties; But will Saturday's wet weather throw a spanner in works during qualifying? Russian GP Qualy due to start at 1pm on Sky Sports F1
By Jonathan Green
Last Updated: 25/09/21 10:04pm
Lewis Hamilton says he and Mercedes must capitalise on Max Verstappen's grid penalty at the Russian GP, but is braced for an "interesting" Saturday with heavy rain forecast for qualifying day.
Mercedes made the perfect start to the weekend as Valtteri Bottas led a one-two with Hamilton in both of Friday's practice sessions in Sochi, which were run in blazing sunshine.
Hamilton's title rival Verstappen will start Sunday's race from the back of the grid after Red Bull installed a brand new Honda power unit in his car. The Dutchman, five points ahead of Hamilton at the top of the drivers' championship, is anticipating a tricky task to come back through the field, and said on team radio during Practice Two that he was finding it "impossible" to overtake cars.
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- Russian GP: Sky F1's Qualy day schedule
Seven-time world champion Hamilton says Mercedes must do all they can to take full advantage at a track they are unbeaten on since it arrived on the calendar in 2014.
But Mercedes' serene start may be complicated on Saturday with heavy rain forecast to impact Practice Three and Qualifying, while it is now looking like the race will be run in dry conditions.
"It seems that we've started off on the right foot," Hamilton said.
"Generally a good session pace wise, we have some work to do probably on our long run and then tomorrow it's going to be raining a lot so it will be interesting to see what we do in terms of set up for that when potentially Sunday is dry."
Qualifying is due to start at 1pm live on Sky Sports F1, although F1 are keeping a keen eye on the forecast in case the session has to be moved. The Belgian GP was abandoned due to poor weather late last month.
"(Max's penalty) doesn't really change anything for us," added Hamilton. "We just have to do our thing and focus on moving forwards.
"It's a tough year for everyone with reliability so that's definitely a shame for him but we've got to try and capitalise on that and try to maximise our result.
"A one-two would be spectacular for us as a team."
Mercedes are without a one-two so far this season.
Bottas, race winner in Russia in both 2017 and 2020 but yet to claim victory this year, said he had felt immediately comfortable in his W12 and believes only minor tweaks are required to optimise the car for qualifying and the race.
"It can always go better but if you look at the timings and based on the feelings it was a good day," he said.
"From the first run I had a good confidence with the car and balance was actually very good so only had to do minor adjustments during the day and really could focus on the driving and finding small gains here and there. Both short and long runs I was pretty comfortable.
"There is more to come but I think tomorrow is going to be wet so it's going to be a completely different day. At least we got in Practice One some decent long runs in and the main thing is the car feels good in long runs for Sunday which could be dry.
"We can always improve things but overall everything worked fine. We'll still work hard tonight."
Hamilton revealed he and Bottas had been on different car set-ups throughout Friday as Mercedes sought to find the optimal approach for the remainder of the weekend.
"Me and Valtteri are quite different on set up, deliberately, going different ways to try and see which is best. Tonight we will try and understand, study those and see how we come back to the right path."