It’s a top three qualifier, but not as we know it. Harsh conditions in Sochi leveled the playing field for the next generation of F1 talent to take the top three grid spots for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.

The next generation

It’s the Formula 1 season that continues to deliver … as long as you’re a fan of surprise results. Two weeks after McLaren’s surprise victory at the Italian Grand Prix, Lando Norris kept the British team in the lead by taking pole position for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.

Once again, circumstances and the misfortune of the first played a role in the result, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Norris’ turn, who beat his former teammate and current Ferrari rival Carlos Sainz in first place.

“It’s just a great feeling – I don’t know what to say,” Norris said. “It feels like you just qualified well, but it’s a pole position, which doesn’t happen much.

“This is my first out of an X number of races and it could be my only pole for a while. It’s amazing, especially in these conditions.

“It’s tricky and you have to take a lot of risk on the line and try to see if it pays off and it does. Amazing feeling, my first pole.”

It’s not Norris’ first impressive performance this year. During qualifying in the rain for the Belgian Grand Prix he looked like a contender on the front row of the grid until a high speed crash at Eau Rouge in the final qualifying session ruled him out. Then, at Monza, he would have been the McLaren driver on the top step of the podium had he not lost a crucial position to teammate Daniel Ricciardo on the first lap of the sprint qualifying race, leaving him as grand prix rear gunner. himself.

It might seem unlikely given the Mercedes’ pace under normal conditions and Lewis Hamilton starting just three places behind him, but Norris is keen to continue riding his current wave until a race victory on Sunday.

“Of course I have the opportunity to try and achieve something that I haven’t achieved in Italy,” Norris said of his chances in Sunday’s race. “I’m definitely going to go, but of course in any situation you do, especially when I have the situation I’m going to have tomorrow.

“With the Ferrari and the Williams behind me, it’s a bit of a buffer [to Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes], so we have a good chance. I don’t think my mentality has changed because of Monza and I don’t think I have to make up for it.

“It’s a second chance to try to do even better.”

Sainz and George Russell also deserve recognition for their qualifying performances in Russia. Sainz missed pole by 0.517 seconds but arguably has a less competitive car than Norris on this particular circuit, which suits the McLaren much better than the Ferrari.

Russell outperforming his car is no longer a surprise in F1, but his third place in Sochi is just as remarkable as the other exploits he has achieved this year. He was the first rider to switch to slick tires on Saturday – a decision made easier for Williams by the fact that he ran out of new midsize tires and had already exceeded expectations in qualifying by placing in the top ten. But even with more heat in his tires than the drivers who followed suit later in Q3, he still needed to complete a lap and avoid making a mistake to get the job done.

While maintaining a podium position on Sunday seems unlikely for Russell, Sochi should provide him with an opportunity to score a decent number of points, with Williams showing a respectable pace on heavy fuel in Friday’s practice, rather than the Saturday mistakes.

— Laurence Edmondson

Hamilton cracking under pressure?

When Red Bull announced that Max Verstappen will take on a new engine this weekend and start from the back of the grid, that should have provided Hamilton with an open goal to score maximum points on Sunday. But from the first hurdle of qualifying, Hamilton seemed to stumble and he will line up fourth on the grid for a race he really needs to win.

While the rest of the field decided that the slick tires would provide the best lap time under changing conditions in Q3, Hamilton and Mercedes stayed on track to establish a bank lap on the intermediate tires. It was the conservative approach and arguably the right one as it secured him fourth instead of tenth at the end of the session, but it put a lot of pressure on Hamilton when he finally got to move on to the soft tires.

As he rushed to the pits, Hamilton picked up more speed in the tight pit entrance than he had so far in the session and cut through the wall at the entrance. The incident broke his front wing, which cost more time as the team not only had to change the broken wing, but also moved Hamilton to make room for teammate Valtteri Bottas, who also had to move on to the slicks in the same pit. box.

By the time Hamilton got back on track, his slick tires had been out of their covers for 64 seconds, losing performance as they cooled in the open. Once on the track it lost more performance as it had to give way to other cars, pulling away from the race line and cooling the tires further. It is therefore not surprising that he could not beat his previous time on intermediate tires and ended up spinning in the last sector.

It was a series of unfortunate events, but Hamilton says it has nothing to do with the pressure of the title fight.

“It’s really nothing to do with the pressure, honestly,” said Hamilton. “It really wasn’t a pressure scenario.

“It’s literally just a case of mistakes happening. I got into the pits, I knew I didn’t have much time and I was pushing. I was just trying to get through the pit lane that fast. as possible because I knew I would need as long as possible.

“Previously when you got into the pit lane you could go really slow, I thought the track was drying up and the grip was pretty good, and I got in and took it a little faster than normal and i just lost the thin back and slipped into the wall.

“So yeah sure, embarrassing, disappointed in myself that I got it, but it does happen. We all make mistakes, and of course that’s not what you expect from a world champion. .

“But the problem with you having the success that I have is that everything but perfection seems far away. But I’m only human. My dad called me afterwards, and we just talked about it. , and you move on.

“Tomorrow I’m putting my race head back forward and focusing on the back, and I hope to bring you a good race.”

Starting fourth on the grid and with a Mercedes which was clearly the fastest car in race conditions in Friday practice, Hamilton should be able to recover the victory on Sunday. This could turn out to be the real test of how he handles Verstappen’s pressure.

— Laurence Edmondson

Damage limitation for Verstappen

Championship leader Max Verstappen is said to have been very happy with the way qualifying has gone in Sochi. Yesterday it was confirmed that Red Bull would switch engines – a change expected since their collision with Lewis Hamilton at the Briitsh Grand Prix in July – and bear the accompanying back-grid penalty.

Verstappen’s job on Sunday will be to keep his nose clean in the first corners and then patiently work his way through control. With the talent and the car at his disposal, he can still aim for a good finish on Sunday.

Fernando Alonso, who qualified sixth, said he would be surprised not to see Verstappen at some point in the race and cited the return of Valtteri Bottas to the Italian Grand Prix as an example of the absolute pace of the two leading teams.

“P6, let’s see if we can fill this position tomorrow because we know Verstappen will come [through] pretty quick, ”Alonso said.

“We saw Bottas go last to Monza, he finished on the podium. Red Bull and Mercedes are in a different race.”

— Nate Saunders

Carbonated smoke at AlphaTauri

Pierre Gasly, who got used to qualifying strongly this year, was absolutely furious after being eliminated in Q2. The French pilot spent most of his lap angrily hitting the sides of his cockpit and sending back an explanatory radio message to his AlphaTauri team.

He was upset that he was left on old tires in the middle of the session. Considering what followed in the third trimester, Gasly’s mood was understandable.

“I asked to box several times and in the end we were left with worn tires,” he said. “We clearly had the pace to be there in Q3 until the end and today we did a bad job and I don’t really understand why we didn’t box.”

Gasly lost his front wing at the end of the second practice session on Friday, but otherwise his pace seems very strong. With AlphaTauri scoring zero points at Monza and his rivals qualifying strongly on Saturday afternoon, Gasly will have to deliver some of the magic we’ve come to expect over the past 18 months.

— Nate Saunders

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