A rapid Ferrari performance on Friday set Saturday up to be the closest qualifying day of the season so far. Here’s our report from Saturday at the 2017 Russian Grand Prix!


Third Practice

The sun beamed down upon the Sochi Autodrom as Mercedes looked to extend their run of eighteen races on pole and Ferrari hoped to score their first front row lock-out since the 2008 French Grand Prix.

Overnight, Haas made the decision to switch back from Carbon Industrie brakes to Brembo. Team Principal Guenther Steiner refferred to Friday as a test session, as they evaluated how the Carbon Industrie brakes were suited to the VF17. He admitted the team were ‘still not completely on top of how to manage the brakes.’

It was an uneventful start to the Third Practice session, though home favourite Daniil Kvyat began the session with a spin at Turn Fifteen.

Twenty minutes into the session, Kimi Raikkonen set the early pace and fellow Finn Valtteri Bottas went just thirteen thousandths slower than him. Sebastian Vettel then went fastest on a 1:34.933. Lewis Hamilton was last of the frontrunners to set a fast time, but his lap was only good enough for fourth. Bottas then improved to get to four tenths away from Vettel. In a fascinating exchange at the top of the time sheet, Mercedes then struck back – Hamilton set the quickest time, 0.105 seconds up on Vettel. Red Bull lingered half a second away from Raikkonen’s fourth fastest time.

Jolyon Palmer emerged from the pit-lane for the first time with thirty minutes of the session remaining. The Renault mechanics had broken the curfew overnight in order to change Palmer’s chassis as a precaution. He complained of a lack of power on his out-lap and returned to the pits immediately. He remained garage-bound for the remainder of the session.

On their second fast runs, Bottas went a tenth quicker than Hamilton’s former quickest time. Hamilton made a few mistakes in the final sector, and looked to be struggling with grip and oversteer. Next, it was the Ferraris turn, and Raikkonen set the fastest time by three tenths before Vettel beat that time by three tenths.

Daniel Ricciardo slowed in the closing stages of the session with a sudden engine issue, but managed to get going again without drama.

Behind the top four, Felipe Massa impressed by setting the sixth fastest time. He split the two Red Bull drivers and went just two hundredths slower than Max Verstappen.

Full Result from Practice Three:

  Driver Team Time/Gap
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:34.001
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari +0.337
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes +0.363
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +0.541
5 Max Verstappen Red Bull +1.451
6 Felipe Massa Williams +1.470
7 Nico Hulkenberg Renault +1.661
8 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +1.829
9 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso +2.163
10 Kevin Magnussen Haas +2.555
11 Lance Stroll Williams +2.648
12 Esteban Ocon Force India +2.675
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso +2.845
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren +2.868
15 Sergio Perez Force India +2.961
16 Romain Grosjean Haas +3.163
17 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren +3.181
18 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +3.502
19 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber +3.656
20 Jolyon Palmer Renault No Time

Qualifying

Q1

The track heated up as the minutes ticked away to the start of Qualifying. Daniil Kvyat led the pack out.

As the drivers went out on their first runs, it became evident that the Ultra Soft tyres performed better on the second consecutive fast lap. Bottas set the initial pace on Ultra Soft tyres and Vettel responded with a time one second slower, though he was on the harder Super Soft tyres. Raikkonen, also on Super Soft tyres, was two tenths down on his team-mate. Bottas improved his time while Hamilton got his session underway by setting the second fastest time. Vettel improved on his time, staying third, but increasing the gap to his team-mate to half a second.

Fernando Alonso scraped through in the what proved to be the final moments of competitive running in the session, as the yellow flags were brought out for two separate incidents. Palmer crashed on his final attempt to make it out of the drop-zone. He ran over the kerb at Turn Four and clattered into the barrier.

“I have to say a big thank you to all my crew and everyone in the garage who has worked so hard over this weekend, they really have been amazing and now they have a bit more work to do. I was pushing hard and took too much kerb which pitched me into the barriers. I was on the back foot slightly with missing FP3, but anything can happen in the race, so I hope for a better day.”

Pascal Wehrlein also stopped on track in the closing seconds of the session. He came off the track at Turn Thirteen.

“I cannot be satisfied with this result. I made a mistake on my last lap in qualifying, which definitely cost time. Overall I am having difficulties with the balance of the car. Also, our top speed on the straights is not good enough. The tyres behave differently compared to Bahrain, but this is the same for everyone else. Nevertheless, we will do our best for tomorrow’s race.”

“A disappointing result. I think we have made some progress today in FP3 and then in qualifying. Unfortunately we identified a power unit issue in FP3, and we were not able to fully fix it for qualifying. I am sure we will sort this out for tomorrow. On top of that I got yellow flags on my last lap in Q1. We could have been close to Q2 today without having these issues but that’s how racing goes sometimes. However, I am still positive, as we are moving in the right direction.”

While Alonso was complimentary on the radio – “That felt good, very good! The lap was nearly perfect.” – his McLaren team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne finished the session in seventeenth. He’ll start last as a result of his fifteen-place grid penalty.

“We knew we’d more or less be starting from the back, so our main aim will be to try and get the most out of tomorrow’s race. Although we know it’s going to be difficult for us to overtake around here, I still think that a lot of things can happen over a race distance. Even if it turns out to be a one-stop race, it’ll be a long afternoon – and, hopefully, there’ll be some incidents or a Safety Car, which could create some scenarios that might play into our hands.”

On a problematic weekend for Haas, Romain Grosjean finished the session as the slowest car. His qualifying performances have been hit and miss so far this year – while he has had two Q3 appearances, this was his second Q1 knock-out of the year. He was hindered by the yellow flags at the end of the session.

“I’ve been very unhappy with the car since yesterday morning. Something is just not working, and then today we had the yellow flags on my last lap while I was trying to improve. We need a solution for those yellow flags. Three races now we’ve had at least one Haas out because we get a yellow flag on our last attempt, so that’s a bit too much. Kevin has been pretty happy with his car and I haven’t. It was nothing in the brakes, it was just the car wasn’t doing anything I wanted. I think tomorrow will be very hard.”

Q2

Despite Palmer’s car still being cleared away, the green flag was waved for the start of Q2.

There was a big leap of pace from Mercedes. Bottas set a 1:33.264, while Hamilton shadowed him by half a second. Ferrari’s pace now seemed less impressive, with Vettel and Raikkonen being closely matched, but eight tenths off the pace of the Mercedes pair. Considering this is the set of tyres they’d be starting the race on, perhaps Ferrari were just saving the tyres slightly and performing only to the necessary level.

Daniel Ricciardo looked to be in trouble – his time was only good enough for eighth, but he managed to scrape through to Q3. Sergio Perez left it late – he didn’t set a time until right at the end of the session. He went ninth, and with Esteban Ocon setting the tenth fastest time, it was the first time both Force India cars made it through to Q3 in 2017.

Alonso’s earlier optimism had faded by the end of the second session, as he finished last and claimed McLaren were losing three seconds on the straights around the Russian track.

“It was a good qualifying in terms of the performance of the chassis and aerodynamics – the balance of the car felt quite good; quite grippy in the corners. I felt competitive, and my Q1 lap was very good. The tyres are tricky around here, as you need to warm them up quite hard, but everything went okay today. The sunny weather helped – and I think it’s going to be a good tyre for the race. Points tomorrow are our target, we need to have a good start, a good strategy, and a good race. Even then, we won’t be fast enough to get into in the points so we’ll need some help from the guys ahead of us.”

Lance Stroll made a mistake on his final lap and lost over a second in the last sector. He ended up eight tenths down on his team-mate’s Q3 time and qualified twelfth.

“It was a bit unfortunate at the end as I think Q3 was possible, but I just missed out at the end of my lap in Q2. I didn’t get to do the warm up lap I wanted, and around here it is quite important to get the tyre working properly. I had a good start to the lap and then I lost a lot of grip in the last sector, made a couple of mistakes and just lost the rear, which wasn’t great. I was a couple of tenths up but didn’t manage to hold it. There is more in it. It is a long race tomorrow, we will see what happens and hopefully luck is going to be a bit more on our side.”

Both Toro Rosso cars were eliminated in the second session. They were separated by two grid positions but just two hundredths of a second, showing just how tight the midfield is in 2017. Home star Kvyat qualified thirteenth.

“After this morning’s FP3, I’m happy with my result in today’s qualifying session. The car has been difficult to drive all weekend and we also had a few issues this morning which we couldn’t completely solve for qualifying. But I drove well and I’m happy with my lap. Tomorrow we will try our best to fight for points!”

Carlos Sainz qualified eleventh, but will start from fourteenth as a result of his three place grid penalty for crashing into Stroll in Bahrain.

“Yesterday we were totally out of position, but today we managed to pick-up the pace a bit and to qualify in P11, which isn’t that bad. It’s just unfortunate that I have that 3-place grid penalty for tomorrow… We are definitely lacking some pace around this circuit, but it can be an interesting race. I’m really enjoying this midfield battle which is making every Quali and race very exciting. I’d say points are possible and, even if it will be tough to go forward, I will give it my all and let’s see where we end up.”

Kevin Magnussen was the other driver eliminated in Q2. He qualified in fourteenth.

“As a team we’re struggling a bit more this weekend than in the first races. It’s not perfect, but I think P14 for me today was the best I could do. I think with a perfect lap P11 could’ve been possible, but it’s very close from 11th to where I am, very close. I don’t think any of these guys probably had a perfect lap. It is what it is. To be in that group is a good effort from our side. We’ve been a bit unlucky this weekend having to go back on the brakes in the middle of the weekend, but I think we’ll still have a good car for the race. Hopefully, we can get through the first corner well and have a good race.”

Q3

There was an altercation between Hamilton and Nico Hulkenberg on their outlaps at the start of the final qualifying session. After running close behind the Mercedes, Hamilton let the Force India driver by and then attempted to overtake him once again towards the end of the lap, but he thought better of it. Hulkenberg ended up eighth on the grid for Force India.

“I think that was the best we could do with the package we have currently, so it’s been a satisfying afternoon from that point of view. The challenge will be in the race; our pace then has been trickier so far this season so tomorrow will be the true teller of where we are in the car with our recent upgrade. We’ll push, as always, and hopefully come away with some nice points.”

It was another strong day for Force India as Ocon celebrated his first Q3 appearance – even though he’s convinced there was more pace in the car today.

“It’s the first Q3 appearance of my career and I’m pretty happy with our performance today. The team has done an awesome job to improve the car during each session and I felt very comfortable by the time we started qualifying. I made a few small mistakes on my Q3 lap so I’m a little bit frustrated because there was the opportunity to be even higher up the grid. If I can make a clean start in the race, there is all to play for tomorrow. It’s important that I make the most of my best qualifying position in Formula One to score some more points.”

Ocon’s team-mate Perez qualified one place ahead of him. He similarly feels he could have got another tenth out of the car. 

“It was not an ideal qualifying session for me, but in the end we got a good result and we can be pleased to be in Q3. I didn’t get the perfect lap; I feel I have left something on the table and when the margins are so close a tenth of a second would have put us a couple of places further ahead. It was not easy to get the tyres in the right operating window and to keep them working for the whole lap. Also, the track conditions changed a lot from yesterday and I think this affected everyone. The key for tomorrow’s race will be having a good start and a clean run into turn two: it’s a tricky one and in the past there has been plenty of action there at the start. I am optimistic for the race and I think we can aim to make up some positions from where we start.”

The two Red Bull drivers and Felipe Massa, who all live in the same apartment block in Monaco had a close battle throughout Saturday. They’ve agreed that whoever finishes in the best position tomorrow will get to take the largest apartment for the week. As in Third Practice, Massa split the two Red Bull drivers and beat Verstappen by just five hundredths.

“It was a great qualifying for us. It’s so nice to see that we are in the middle of the two Red Bulls. They were better than us in the first three races, on qualifying and race pace, but this is a good track for us and we are fighting with them. I’m happy with the position we’re starting, but I’m also happy that maybe tomorrow we can fight with them again. I will try everything I can, I’m very motivated and I hope everything will be right for us to have a good race tomorrow.”

Ricciardo out-qualified his team-mate for the third time in four races.

“I don’t think the practice session timings were completely representative of our pace and I felt like we were always a bit better than the timing screen showed but we hadn’t quite put it all together. In Q1 and Q2 we were trying to circulate and build temperature in the tyres but in Q3 we went for it and decided just to do one push lap which seemed to work so I’m glad we chose to do that. I’m pretty happy, I think fifth was all we could ask for today and that’s obvious looking at the gap to the front.”

Both Red Bull drivers seemed to be pretty happy that they got the most out of the car, but were disappointed to be so far off the pace of Ferrari and Mercedes, as Verstappen explains:

“A frustrating day all things considered, we knew this would be one of our toughest tracks of the season but I had hoped qualifying would go better than that. Sector 1 and 2 went well on most of my laps but the time just fell away in sector 3 as I just didn’t have the heat in the tyres. P5 was our target and that looked possible based on my first sector splits but the time I lost in the final sector cost me that goal. In Bahrain our car had a good setup and worked with the tyres but here the long straights make it very hard to go quick and compete at the front. Tomorrow should be a one stop race and we will of course try to push and go forward but I just think the top four are too quick here. The target will remain P5 in the race tomorrow which would be a good result for us here.”

 At the business end of the grid, Raikkonen set the fastest lap on the first attempt, and matched Mercedes Q2 pace. Vettel slotted in behind. Then it was the Mercedes’ turn. Bottas’ pace was encouraging and he was two tenths quicker after the first two sectors. He didn’t have the pace in the final sector however, and took second. His team-mate was further off the pace and went fourth. Kimi Raikkonen was on provisional pole for the first time in eight years and 312 days. But could he hold it as the cars came back out for their second and final attempts?

Kimi improved in the first sector, as did Vettel. The Finn then improved in the second sector too, as did Vettel. However, Kimi went too deep in the final corner and arguably lost pole there.

“Generally, it has been a very straightforward weekend: we have been happier with the car, set-up wise, since the beginning and when you start well it’s easier to work and improve here and there. This first row is great for the team, obviously I would rather be in front, but this is not an easy track to get a good lap. I’m happy to take second place, it’s a lot better that it has been so far this year. It’s good but it’s only qualifying, tomorrow is the day where we get points, and we have to do a good job out of it. I expect us to be ok, for sure it’s going to be a close fight. Hopefully we can make a good start and see what happens.”

Vettel waved the familiar finger as he celebrated the 47th pole of his career, and only his second in three years.

“I think it’s just great. We had had a very good run also yesterday and this morning, and the car was phenomenal. So there’s no real secret to today’s result, it’s just the fact that if you get along with the car you find the rhythm and know what to expect. We knew it would be very tight against the Mercedes, it could have gone the other way, but I am very happy that we locked out the front row for the team. I had a good start to Qualifying , then in Q2 I lost a bit the rhythm. My first run in Q3 was not very tidy, so I left it to the last run. For us it’s so important as Mercedes had done an impeccable job in the last few years, so it’s great for the team and for me that we managed to break that. But now we’ll see what tomorrow brings. It’s a long race and we’ll try to confirm this result.”

Overtaking is notoriously difficult here and Ferrari showed promise on long runs on Friday. The 2017 Russian Grand Prix looks to be the Italian team’s to lose.

Full Qualifying Result:

  Driver Team Time/Gap
1 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:33.194
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:33.253
3 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:33.289
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:33.767
5 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:34.905
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:35.110
7 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:35.161
8 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1:35.285
9 Sergio Perez Force India 1:35.337
10 Esteban Ocon Force India 1:35.430
11 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:35.948
12 Lance Stroll Williams 1:35.964
13 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:35.968
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1:36.017
15 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:36.660
16 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:36.462
17 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1:37.070
18 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1:37.332
19 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:37.502
20 Romain Grosjean Renault 1:37.620

 

Nicky Haldenby is a 23 year old Formula One blogger from Scarborough, North Yorkshire. Having grown up with F1 often on the TV on Sunday afternoons, Nicky has been following the sport avidly since 2006. He graduated from the University of Hull in 2015 with a First Class degree in English Language and Literature. He founded the Lights Out F1 Blog in March 2016.

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