What the teams said – Qualifying in Russia
What a difference a day makes. If Friday belonged to Bottas, then Saturday was all about Hamilton. The reigning world champion topped FP3 and looked quick in the first part of qualifying. But then the drama unfolded – first Hamilton’s lap was deleted for exceeding track limits, and then his next effort was aborted due to red flags. With moments left on the clock, he crossed the line to set off on a third flying lap which was good enough for the top 10, but cost him the chance to start the race on the medium compound. Roll on Q3 and it was like nothing had ever happened as he grabbed pole comfortably by over half a second. That left Bottas third on the grid – but unlike his team mate, he not only has a tow down to Turn 1, but also will be on the preferential medium compound to boot.
Lewis Hamilton, 1st, 1:31.304
"That was one of the toughest qualifying sessions I can remember, proper heart in your mouth the whole way. But I feel super grateful for everyone keeping their cool as it could have been a lot, lot worse. Q2 was hugely challenging, my first attempt was taken away for going over the track limits at the final corner. The team brought me in for refuelling and to fit new tyres but when I was on my second lap, the red flag came out. After that, it was very close to still get that final lap in - I overtook a few cars in the last sector but then lost time behind a Renault. I just heard Bono say 'go, go, go', so I was gunning it to get across the line. There was so much going on and I had to just calm down and find my centre. Valtteri had been strong all weekend, so I had no choice but to deliver with those final Q3 laps. The first lap in the final session was really great, and I thought it would be difficult to improve, but I managed to find a tiny bit on the second lap. It's nice to take pole position, but this track is probably the worst place to be on pole, due to the long run to the first braking zone. So, I'm expecting a tough fight down to Turn 2 and a challenging race, especially as I'm starting on the Soft tyre, which is a good compound for the race start but is the worst tyre for the opening stint. We'll sit down tonight and figure out the best approach to the race."
Valtteri Bottas, 3rd, 1:31.956
"It was looking pretty good for me, I felt like I had the pace through Q1 and Q2, and both of those sessions went nice and smoothly. But Q3 was a tricky one. I felt like I found some gains but clearly the others found more. On the first run in Q3 the tyres were a bit too cold, so out of the last corner I had a big snap and was already a few tenths down on the run to Turn 2. I was waiting for the second run and that lap felt better, there weren't really any mistakes so I'm not sure why I couldn't get closer to pole. There are some question marks there, which we'll need to look into in the debrief and figure out why there was such a gap. But P3 is actually a pretty good place to start here and I think I'm on the right tyre as well. I've started third here before and look what happened, so I'll try and do the same. It's still all to play for."
Toto Wolff, Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsport
"Sometimes, it's the tracks where we perform well in practice, that prove to be the most difficult in qualifying and the race. That happened today, with a very challenging qualifying session. We had a very strong care, but almost stumbled over a red flag. I think we had the racing gods on our side, that we were able to make it into Q3. It's always impressive how Lewis manages to put it all together, even if adversity is being thrown at him. He did a fantastic job to secure pole position. On Valtteri's side, we need to investigate what happened, because he had a very strong Friday, but FP3 went against him. The changes he'd made to the car for qualifying seemed to be right, but then he lost some performance in Q3. The gap doesn't do him justice, so we need to look into what happened. But we're looking forward to an exciting race, with both drivers starting on different tyre compounds and a long run to Turn 2. Let's see how it all plays out."
Andrew Shovlin, Trackside Engineering Director
"We had the pace today to get the cars on the front row with both starting on medium tyres so it's a bit disappointing to have Lewis starting the race on soft and Valtteri in third. The wind changed going into qualifying and it was quite gusty which made it more difficult to put the laps together. The first session wasn't the cleanest for us, but both cars got through ok. The second session was really where things started to get complicated. Valtteri did a decent first lap on the medium, but the track was improving quickly, and we had to take a second set to make sure we covered further track evolution. Lewis did a very quick first lap, but ran a bit wide at the final corner so his time was deleted. We didn't have enough fuel in the car to do another lap, so had no choice but to box. We sent Lewis early on another medium tyre and he was on a good lap going into the penultimate corner when the red flag came out for Sebastien's crash, which was simply unfortunate timing. The focus then shifted to just making sure we got Lewis through to Q3: We knew the outlap would be a mess given that there was only two minutes and 15 seconds on the clock, but he was just able to cross the line before the flag and despite traffic, managed to get a lap together. Q3 was a bit more straight forward although Valtteri struggled to get the tyres in the right window and unfortunately got pipped by Max on the final run. Lewis did a couple of really impressive laps, but rather than celebrating another pole position, I think he'll be thinking that he'd happily swap it for a Medium tyre of the line tomorrow. So, it wasn't the perfect preparation for tomorrow, but we've still got a chance for either of our cars to win and it should make the race very exciting."
Having looked to be back tangling with the midfield runners, it was encouraging to see Verstappen find some form today. He looked to be in a fight with former team mate Ricciardo for the honour of P3 on the grid until a blistering last lap catapulted the Dutchman to second and his best start since Austria. On the medium compound tyres, he is well placed now to take the fight to Mercedes. As for Albon, a mysterious lack of pace despite a tidy lap left the Thai driver propping up the top 10.
Max Verstappen, 2nd, 1:31.867
“P2 was very unexpected and I don’t say this often but I think this was one of my best ever qualifying laps and it felt really good. I was struggling a bit in Q1 and Q2 with the balance of the car and we made some small improvements to stabilise everything and in Q3, especially on the second run, they worked and the lap was good. Of course we want to fight for pole and wins but this year it is not possible all the time, so then to be able to split the two Mercedes cars is very satisfying and I’m happy to be on the front row here. I’m starting on the dirty side of the grid which does make a difference with the initial launch but I’m also on the medium tyre which is the best way for us. If we can have a decent start, the tow effect is very big so who knows what can happen into Turn Two. I think the Mercedes does still have more overall pace so they will be hard to beat but I’m happy with today and I think we really extracted more than we thought was possible and we can be very happy with that.”
Alex Albon, 10th, 1:33.008
“I’m not too sure what happened with Q3 so we need tonight to sit down and look at it with the engineers. Q1 and Q2 felt ok and then everyone just seemed to make a jump in Q3 whereas we didn’t. It didn’t feel like we had much left in the car and my laps didn’t feel bad so there’s a bit of head scratching going on. You can tidy up some things here and there to find a couple of tenths maybe but obviously the gap is quite big today so it’s confusing and we have work to do. There was a bit of spinning and track limits going on which I think was because the wind changed quite a lot from FP3 to qualifying so some people were getting caught out. We’ll do our homework tonight so we have a better day tomorrow. It’s a long run to Turn 1 and anything can happen so let’s see what we can do.”
Christian Horner, Team Principal
“We certainly didn’t expect to be on the front row coming into the weekend as Sochi has always been one of our weaker tracks, so it is very satisfying to be able to split the two Mercedes today. Max played it very smart in the final lap of Q3. He waited for Bottas to finish his lap and then got a tow from him all the way down from Turn One to Turn Two, meaning he was already a tenth up at the exit of Turn Two. He then had to get the rest of the lap spot on, which he did and P2 was a phenomenal result with arguably one of the best laps he’s driven this season. Alex did a good job to get himself comfortably into Q3 and then unfortunately he was just at the wrong end of the group at the end of the session. It was so tight out there that a couple of tenths would have made things look very different for him, but we have a good race car and we all know he can overtake, so we will definitely see some action from him tomorrow.”
A mixed bag for the Pink Panthers. Both cars looked quick enough to progress to the top 10 shootout, but Stroll couldn’t nail his first flying lap and then his car started to overheat in the pit lane while he waited for the lights to go green, ending his involvement. Perez did make Q3 and looked to be just trailing the likes of Ricciardo and Sainz until he pulled an incredible lap out of the bag when it mattered to grab fourth and a starting slot alongside a Mercedes no less. Could a podium beckon for the Mexican?
Sergio Perez, 4th, 1:32.317
“I’m very happy with our performance today: I think P4 was the maximum I could achieve because Max and the two Mercedes were very strong out there. We were able to qualify ahead of our nearest rivals, which is the main thing. It was a really tough session because the wind kept changing and we had the disruption of the red flag too. It’s a credit to the team that we were able to manage the sessions so well and extract the maximum from the car. A podium could be difficult to achieve here, but anything can happen at the start with the long run to Turn 2. If we make a strong start and manage the tyres well, I think we can fight for a good result tomorrow.”
Lance Stroll, 13th, 1:33.364
“It was a tough day. We were all set for the final few minutes of Q2 and raring to go after the red flag. Sadly, the engine was overheating while we were in the fast lane so we took the precaution of switching off the car. It’s frustrating because we’ve made it into Q3 consistently this year. I’ve not quite found my rhythm here yet; I just need to put together the finer details and come back stronger tomorrow. It’s not easy to overtake here, but we have a quick race car. If we can get a good start and make some early progress, then it’s all to play for in terms of points.”
Otmar Szafnauer, Team Principal & CEO
“A session of mixed fortunes with small margins making a big difference today. A fourth place for Sergio is well-deserved and should allow us to make the most of our competitive race pace tomorrow. Lance lines up in P13 – largely due to the red flag, which interrupted his quickest lap in the final minutes of Q2. It led to the squabble for track position with cars queueing in the pit lane as we tried to second guess when the session would restart. Unfortunately, the power unit was overheating and we asked Lance to switch the car off. He deserved more from today, but he will be strong tomorrow, and at least he will get a free choice of tyres for the start of the race.”
Ricciardo was too busy adjusting his wing mirror in FP3 to set a representative time, but carried yesterday’s form right into qualifying and looked for much of the afternoon the pick of the midfield bunch. A poor last flying lap in Q3 though meant he couldn’t improve as the track ramped up and the Aussie had to be content with fifth. As for Ocon, he’s been over-shadowed in qualifying of late by his team mate but seventh was a respectable showing, and with good race pace, both drivers should be in for a fun afternoon tomorrow.
Daniel Ricciardo, 5th, 1:32.364
“Overall, I’m happy with fifth position for tomorrow. I knew we weren’t in contention for pole position, but after the Q2 lap it felt like third or fourth was in reach. That lap in Q2 was perfect, so I knew it was going to be hard to improve on that. I did struggle a little more in Q3 and probably could have improved my time, but I am happy with where we ended up. I haven’t normally been strong at this circuit so to be quick all weekend is a positive. We can definitely race tomorrow so it should be fun.”
Esteban Ocon, 7th, 1:32.624
“I think it’s a very decent result today. We’ve shown great pace this weekend and it’s definitely been strong with the car performing quite well. On my side, I’m happy with the result and the car was really good through all three sessions. All in all, we’re in the fight for tomorrow, so that’s very positive. It’s great to be starting where we are, and we can have a look at the cars in front. We’re going to be in the mix to fight, so it’s going to be interesting tomorrow. I think anything is possible and we are in good shape to race.”
Alan Permane, Sporting Director
“It was a good qualifying for us with Daniel fifth and Esteban seventh. It was action-packed through the field and across all three sessions. It’s nice to feel disappointed with fifth as, arguably, we could have been fourth with Daniel had he repeated his lap from Q2. That was almost a perfect lap and he couldn’t quite get there in Q3. We’re in good shape for tomorrow with both cars well inside the top ten. We’ll be looking for a very good points haul and to continue our decent form in races.”
McLaren opted to stick with the experimental nose on Norris’ car as they gathered more data about the potential direction of their next raft of upgrades. How much of a difference that made remains to be seen, but the youngster was off the pace of his team mate and wound up eighth. As for Sainz, he looked right in the fight for ‘best of the rest’ until a late change of wind direction hampered his progress and he had to make do with sixth as the team matched their qualifying exactly from last year.
Carlos Sainz, 6th, 1:32.550
“I’m very happy with P6 today after a challenging session for us. We were encouraged after our FP3 pace but, as soon as qualifying started, we saw that the wind conditions and track temperature had changed, which compromised our car balance. Nonetheless, I managed to put in good laps from the first run in Q1, saving a new set for Q3, and putting together all sectors on my last attempt to grab P6 for tomorrow. It’s a good starting position for the race so now we need to make sure we finish the job tomorrow.”
Lando Norris, 8th, 1:32.847
“It was a messy qualifying with the red flag and traffic on my laps, so it was tricky, but the car had good pace and I felt pretty confident in it. I just didn’t have two sets of new tyres in the final quali and it made my life a bit more difficult. I’m still happy, I don’t think P8’s terrible. It was close, so I don’t think I could’ve done miles better.”
Andreas Seidl, Team Principal
“A challenging qualifying but it’s good to be back, with both cars once again making it through to Q3. The team, together with the drivers, worked very hard last night to make further improvements to the car, and that helped us look very strong in FP3. As the afternoon went on, and the ambient conditions changed, it looked like we lost a little bit of that performance when compared with our main competitors. P6 and P8 are good starting positions tomorrow and will let us fight for good points. We’re looking forward to an exciting Russian Grand Prix.”
Once again the team proved to be right on the fringes of Q3 with one driver making it as the other faltered. This time it was Gasly who was safely through as Kvyat wound up a disappointing 12th at his home race. With free tyre choice though, all is not lost for the Russian. As for the hero from Monza, Gasly starts ninth and will hope to avoid the first-lap chaos that saw him make an early exit last time out.
Pierre Gasly, 9th, 1:33.000
“I’m really happy today because yesterday’s free practice sessions were pretty difficult compared to usual. We didn’t really get the performance we wanted on the short runs, so we were not that confident for qualifying. Therefore, I think we can be pretty pleased with our position on the grid for tomorrow. I think we have a good race car, our high fuel runs were strong and the balance was how I wanted it to be. We know that the other midfield teams are pretty fast, but hopefully in the race we can keep up with them and fight. We saw so many things happening recently in the races, so hopefully there will be a few opportunities tomorrow.”
Daniil Kvyat, 12th, 1:33.249
“It was a strong session and I’m quite satisfied with the result because we can fight from that position tomorrow. I think it will be an interesting race that will provide a lot of opportunities, but we were just very unlucky with the red flag in Q2. I think if our session wasn’t interrupted, we could have made it to Q3. I felt good with the car today, and yesterday wasn’t too bad either as our race pace looks quite competitive, so we’ll make the most out of any chances that come our way to fight for points in the race.”
Jonathan Eddolls, Chief Race Engineer
“We were quite happy with our long-run pace yesterday but less so with the short-runs, so that was the main focus of our work overnight, trying to find some more pace without impacting the long runs. We made several changes to the cars and we were one of the teams that had two option tyres in FP3, so we were able to do some good qualifying preparation and test various items to make sure the changes made were working. They appeared to be a good step in the right direction, and although the timesheets didn’t truly reflect our performance, we were quite confident that we had a reasonable car heading into qualifying.
This track in qualifying is always quite difficult with everyone bunching up in the last sector and, as we saw, the traffic was one of the key points in the session, so trying to put the drives in a good position was a big focus for us. We didn’t have any drama in Q1, and Q2 was looking promising for both cars. We could have had two cars into Q3, but with the red flag, our tyre preparation suffered due to the small amount of time remaining in the session, so we went out and led most of the pack to try and improve. Pierre managed to get enough margin and was safe, but Dany got knocked out by around 50 milliseconds. It’s disappointing for him in his home race not to make it by such a small margin, but starting in P12 with free tyre choice actually brings some advantages for tomorrow, particularly with our race pace.
"Pierre gave it his all in Q3 and put in a good lap, but the others in front have just got a little bit more pace than us, and that was probably a fair reflection of where we are as a team. It’s great to get a car into Q3 and overall it was a good qualifying session. Now we look forward to seeing what we can do tomorrow in the race.”
Ferrari have shown encouraging signs of moving back up the order here in Sochi. Both cars made Q2, with Leclerc even managing to save an extra set of tyres in the process. But any hopes of Q3 were dashed when Vettel lost the rear and crashed heavily, bringing out the red flags and nearly collecting his team mate in the process. The good news to be found in the shards of carbon fibre that littered the track is that from 11th on the grid, Leclerc has free tyre choice for the start and could well jump a few of the soft-shod runners ahead.
Sebastian Vettel, 15th, 1:33.609
"When I crashed I was trying to improve my time. I hadn’t had a good first sector so I was pushing. It seems that I was going too quickly and so I lost the car. It had already happened in Turn 2 and then it happened again in Turn 4. I tried to avoid the impact, but I couldn’t catch it.
"Compared to the morning session, the track was quite different during qualifying and I struggled a bit more. I’m sorry to have made extra work for the team, but at least I think the car can be fixed."
Charles Leclerc, 11th, 1:33.239
“We definitely had the pace to do something good, much better than expected. Unfortunately, we missed our chance, so I’m pretty disappointed, but that’s life. It is frustrating that we didn’t make it to Q3 because I really believe that we had the potential to go through today. From the radio communications, I thought I had no margin to cross the line to start the fast lap so I pushed on the out lap and started my quick lap very close to Kvyat. There was actually a bit more time available, but we didn’t exploit that, so we need to improve in that area. We are starting 11th with a free choice of tyres. I hope that we can benefit from this. The race is tomorrow, points are scored tomorrow and I will give it my all.”
Laurent Mekies Sporting Director
"We’re unhappy about qualifying for various reasons. Sebastian crashed, fortunately emerging unscathed, but the impact with the barrier did considerable damage to the car, which will require a lot of work by the mechanics to repair it.
"Charles should have been able to get into Q3 but he had a very hectic time in the final part of Q2. In a strange situation like this, it’s difficult for all the drivers to get a clean lap and in fact, only four of them managed to improve their time in the final two minutes. Charles managed to start his lap in time, but unfortunately there was not enough of a gap to the car in front and he was unable to improve. For our part, in future, we will try and do a better job of evaluating the available time gap.
"Tomorrow’s race will be long and demanding from many points of view and anything could happen. We will do our utmost to score as many points as possible."
Raikkonen is set to break the all-time start record tomorrow but he’ll be doing it from the wrong end of the field. A late spin in Q1 put paid to any chances the Finn had of making Q2 and he wound up propping up the field. As for Giovinazzi, try as he might the Italian still cannot scrape out of Q1 but at least from 17th is in touching distance of the back of the midfield.
Kimi Raikkonen, 20th, 1:35.267
“We have been reasonably happy with the car so far this weekend and we thought we’d be pretty good in qualifying, but things didn’t work out for us. There’s not much to say, I spun at Turn 2 in my fast lap and that was it. The tyres were probably a bit on the cold side at the start of the lap, I locked the front wheel, hit the kerb and then there was nothing I could do, simple as that. We had the car to go to Q2 but if you don’t put a lap on the board, you start at the back. Tomorrow will be a big challenge but we’ll see what we can do to recover.”
Antonio Giovinazzi, 17th, 1:34.594
“We made some good progress but in the end we were still a little short of making it into Q2 today. The track changed a lot from FP3 but we made an improvement in every run and I would have probably been a place higher without having to lift a little at turn two on my final run. We seem to have good pace so we are not out of the battle for points yet. We need to make a good start, as we have done recently, gain a few places in the opening laps and then we are in the fight for a good result: our objective doesn’t change because of today.”
Frédéric Vasseur, Team Principal
“Having a car that could make it to Q2 is a step forward compared to where we were just a few weeks ago, but on this occasion, we were not able to make our improved performance count. We knew from practice that the gaps would be minimal and this has proven to be the case: unfortunately the execution let us down today and we missed out on a slot in the top 15 by less than half a second. We will have our work cut out tomorrow, but with the race pace we showed yesterday and a clean Sunday we can hope to make up some ground.”
Grosjean was vociferous on the radio as he struggled to get a grip on his VF-20 today, but did concede that in the end the team got the maximum they could from qualifying. Both cars exited in Q1 at a track they didn’t expect to suit their car, making tomorrow an uphill battle for the American outfit – unless of course, there is anything like the chaos of Mugello…
Romain Grosjean, 16th, 1:34.592
"I think I got the most out of the car to be fair. We were struggling yesterday; we were more than a second off P19. We made a good step this morning. We changed parts and so on, but it still wasn't as good as I wanted it to be. We made a few more changes going into qualifying and we've actually done very well. The car felt much better, it was much more together, so I'm happy in that aspect. I'm hoping things can happen at the front in the race tomorrow and we can hopefully score from that. On raw pace there's no chance for us to get into the Top 10 if nothing happens, but obviously we need to be ready if there are any opportunities, we need to do our best and get them."
Kevin Magnussen, 18th, 1:34.681
"It wasn't a good qualifying. We've had decent pace in the car all weekend but then in qualifying we couldn't make the tyres work on the first lap. I had lots of traffic on the out lap of my final run. The tyres were just too cold. We needed another lap and we just didn't have that. None of the laps were optimum. It's not satisfying but it just didn't come together in qualifying. I don't know if we look super strong for the race despite a decent FP2 yesterday on the long runs, we look to be where we usually are. We'll just try hard again tomorrow."
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal
"I guess it's one of those chapters where the struggle continues. We know on a good day we can get into Q2, obviously it wasn't a good day given we finished 16th and 18th. For now, we keep on fighting and try to squeeze everything out of what we'e got. The drivers put a big effort in, as did everybody, and that's what is important to me that we keep on trying. We need to keep doing that until we see better days."
Russell kept his qualifying streak alive with another spirited performance as he made Q2 for the first time since Spa. After aborting his first flying run, he managed to secure 14th on the grid by running earlier than the rest and thus avoiding the red flag chaos that unfolded. As for Latifi, he couldn’t hook up a lap when it mattered and exited in Q1.
George Russell, 14th, 1:33.583
"That was more than we could have expected and hoped for, so I am very happy. Our goal was to out qualify both Haas and Alfa this weekend and we did a really good job to get ahead of them in Q1. In Q2, it was great to jump ahead of Sebastian as we only had one set of tyres. The car was feeling good, I was pleased with the lap and I think we are looking in really good shape for tomorrow.
"The last couple of weekends we have been focusing more on the Sunday as we have recognised our Saturday pace has been good, but our Sunday pace has not quite matched it. We have rebalanced our quali and race pace here, which will put us in a good position tomorrow. I think Haas and Alfa still have the edge on us, so I think it will be a race to drive as quick as a I can and check my mirrors to make sure they are not going to overtake me."
Nicholas Latifi, 19th, 1:35.066
"I am disappointed with qualifying today. The session was dictated by the feeling I had on the brakes, and from the warm-up lap I wasn’t getting the bite on the brakes. I locked up and missed my first lap which then puts you on the back foot for your second lap. We need to investigate why as it was much worse than the practice sessions. Tomorrow will be interesting; we geared our car towards the race to be more competitive so that we are able to fight. I am optimistic that we will be able to move forwards, it is a difficult track for overtaking and to follow so a good start will be key. All in all, we will push to move forwards."
Dave Robson, Head of Vehicle Performance
"We had a good day on the whole today and it was a shame that Nicholas couldn’t put his lap together in qualifying. We have pushed the car harder each session this weekend. Going in to FP3 we thought that we may have pushed things a bit too far, but by qualifying we were confident that we really had made good progress. The change of wind conditions this afternoon changed the balance and braking points a little, but the drivers and engineers were able to adapt to that quite quickly once the qualifying session began.
"The team did a good job to give the drivers the opportunity to prepare their tyres for each run without having to fight with other drivers. Unfortunately, the need to look after the tyres on the outlap makes keeping the brakes hot difficult and Nicholas opened his lap with the brakes just out of our window, which cost him early in the lap. George had a slightly easier time with tyres and brakes and was able to exploit the car well in Q1. Having progressed to Q2 with only one set of new tyres, we opted to complete our run in the quiet middle phase of the session, and this worked well with George unhindered by other cars. Whilst we didn’t get to see the final laptime from Vettel, we can still be happy that we were genuinely in a fight with at least one Ferrari.
"It is a long run to Turn 2 here and so we may have an opportunity to make some additional places early in the race. From there we will look to make as much progress as possible and see if we can again get close to the points scoring positions."
Mario Isola, Head of F1 and Car Racing
"As expected the tyres performed well during qualifying, but the session itself was certainly unpredictable! We expected the frontrunners to use the medium during Q2 and that proved to be the case, with the Red Bull of Max Verstappen and Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas starting the race tomorrow on this compound. This should give them the advantage of a potentially longer first stint and more flexibility in terms of strategy. The red flag at the end of the Q2 session posed an additional challenge for the teams in qualifying, with a big few surprises – especially for Lewis Hamilton, who had probably intended to go through Q2 on the medium tyre – and plenty of finely-calculated tactics. The scene is now set for a tense strategic battle tomorrow, which will require a bit of tyre management for those starting on the soft tyre and intending to stop just once in particular".