2014 Russian GP Qualifying: Lewis Hamilton holds on for Sochi pole ahead of Rosberg
Hamilton heads all-W05 front-row as flying Bottas lets Mercedes off hook; Button fourth for improved McLaren with Russian rookie Kvyat a career-best fifth; Vettel out in Q2 while Massa exits in Q1
By James Galloway
Last Updated: 17/10/14 5:45pm
Lewis Hamilton carried through on his early dominance of the inaugural Russian GP weekend by beating Nico Rosberg to pole position in Sochi.
A seventh pole of the season had looked a near inevitability for the World Championship leader after Hamilton, appearing to revel in the acrobatic 5.8km layout, had comfortably topped the final two practice sessions and then the first two knockout stages of qualifying.
Mistakes on his opening lap in Q3, however, then briefly appeared to offer a window of hope for Rosberg, but Hamilton wasted little time in recovering his position with two faster laps thereafter with his final effort of 1:38.513 enough to beat his team-mate by exactly two tenths of a second.
However, both all-conquering Mercedes cars could well have been spectacularly upstaged by Williams’ Valtteri Bottas had the Finn, ahead of Hamilton’s benchmark through the first two sectors of his own final lap, not slid wide at the final corner.
"Pole position is a great place to start, it was an amazing job from the team to keep on improving. It's a beautiful place, I'm really enjoying driving this track. It's been done really nicely," Hamilton said. "It wasn't easy this session, and for some reason hooking up a good lap wasn't as easy as Practice."
Although missing on at least a front-row berth, third position for Bottas underlined Williams’ continued strength, although the team suffered mixed emotions on Saturday after Felipe Massa was knocked out in Q1 after his FW36 suffered an engine problem.
Massa’s early demise left the door open for a battle for the other second-row berth and for the first time in dry conditions this season it was Jenson Button who seized it after McLaren’s promising Friday practice carried over to qualifying despite handling troubles having appeared to send things awry in final practice.
Underlining the apparent suitability of the MP4-29 to the smooth Sochi circuit, Kevin Magnussen claimed sixth – although the Dane will actually drop to 11th on the grid owing to a five-place grid penalty in the wake of a P3 gearbox failure.
However, undoubtedly the star of qualifying was Russia’s sole participant this weekend, Daniil Kvyat, who timed his career-best qualy result of fifth to perfection. The impressive performance came exactly a week after the 20-year-old’s sudden promotion to the senior Red Bull team was announced and, by a quirk of fate, the same day the man he will replace, Sebastian Vettel, dropped out in Q2 for the fourth time this year.
In fact, in a parallel to the days when it was a young Vettel achieving giant-killing feats at Toro Rosso, it was the junior team which proved the quicker of the two Red Bull stables on Saturday. With Vettel citing a pre-qualifying set-up mistake for his early exit, Daniel Ricciardo could only manage seventh in the other RB10 – although the result still confirmed the Australian becomes the first team-mate in Vettel’s F1 career to outqualify the 45-time polesitter over the course of a season.
While Vettel's four-year reign reign as World Champion is poised to come to an end within the next month, Red Bull's status as Constructors' Champions is set to end as early as Sunday with F1's new superpower Mercedes needing 25 points - the equivalent of a race win - to officially end the 2014 contest with three rounds to spare.
Ricciardo pipped Ferrari pair Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, with less than a tenth separating the two World Champions in eighth and ninth places respectively. However, all three drivers will each gain a place on the grid owing to Magnussen’s demotion.
Vettel will therefore start tenth, just behind the second Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, with Sergio Perez profiting from another five-place grid drop for the other Force India of Nico Hulkenberg to start 12th.
A loss of power had earlier left Massa powerless to escape the first knockout session, with technical problems for the Williams and the Lotus of Pastor Maldonado – the driver's engineer apologised to the luckless Venezuelan for a Q1 "shambles" amid battery problems – allowing Caterham’s Marcus Ericsson to outqualify both cars in 17th place.
Having spent most of the season in the shadown of Kamui Kobayashi, the Swede has suddenly outqualified the experienced Japanese twice in two weeks.