“I’m still shaking a bit” - They were the words of Valtteri Bottas just moments after landing pole position in Russia, the Finn visibly buzzing after getting the better of team mate Lewis Hamilton. It was just the second time this season he's topped the qualifying timesheet, and his Mercedes Team Principal Toto Wolff said it was just what Bottas needed.
It perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise that Bottas flew around the Sochi Autodrom, given this track saw the 29-year-old claim his maiden Grand Prix victory in Formula 1 last year. Before that 2017 success, he shared the podium with Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in 2014 while driving for Williams, and was fourth in 2016.
His qualifying form has been impressive here too, having never been outqualified by a team mate in Sochi – and he continued that run on Saturday when he produced a stunning 1m 31.387s, finishing one tenth ahead of Hamilton, with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel settling for third.
According to Wolff, such a performance will be a big confidence boost for Bottas, with the team boss delighted to see the racer replicate his qualifying exploits from Austria earlier this year.
“I’m very pleased,” said Wolff. “I think he needed to gain some confidence and that was just what the doctor ordered.
“I think he knows he needs to extract every little bit to beat Lewis. And when such a lap comes together, you’re so pumped that the adrenaline wants to come out of your ears.”
Bottas had laid down a marker early in the final segment, going fastest in the first runs, but Hamilton looked to hit back on the second runs, only to run wide at Turn 7 and had to abort the lap.
And Wolff, who was tight-lipped on whether the pair will be allowed to race against each other on Sunday - given Mercedes are locked in a championship battle with Ferrari, for both titles - was surprised to see the Brit make an uncharacteristic error.
“I thought Lewis would have maybe been on a mission to beat Valtteri but then he had a massive snap and didn’t make Turn 7.
“It’s going to be difficult to tell Valtteri now ‘you’re not allowed to race’ after him putting it on pole. We’ll have a conversation tomorrow morning and see how the race is going to pan out.”
So having left it all on the track, what did Bottas make of it all? The Finn, who secured the sixth pole of his F1 career, added: “It was a nice lap, and in the end I managed to also improve a little bit.
“I don’t know what happened (with Lewis’ second Q3 hot lap), I think he aborted his lap. It feels good. I'm still shaking a bit. Shakes from the concentration. It was fun.
“For sure it feels good. I’ve only been once on pole this season back in Austria, so it’s been a bit long since the last time. So yes, it’s a good feeling. Coming into this weekend, I knew normally it’s been a pretty good track for me.
“Again I managed to get some good laps in qualifying and the car just felt really strong as the times show. The team have done an exceptional job again bringing new bits for this race. Step by step improving the car which is going to be really important for the rest of the year with the championship fight.”
Mercedes have a 100% record in Russia, having won here every year since 2014. The question is, can Bottas replicate last year’s heroics?