Lando Norris took pole position for the first time in a rain-hit qualifying session for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday after timing his final fast lap to perfection on a drying track.
But he would rather it had been somewhere else.
Lando Norris celebrates his first pole position.Credit:AP
The Sochi Olympic circuit’s long and fast pit straight allows the driver immediately behind the pole-sitter to get an aerodynamic tow, meaning third place on the grid can be more advantageous.
“Probably the only place I wouldn’t want to be on pole is here, especially with the straight down to turn one,” said the 21-year-old Briton, who has former teammate Carlos Sainz alongside for Ferrari and George Russell behind for Williams.
“I’m not really looking forward to it. I’m not looking forward to being first down to turn one tomorrow. But you never know, it’s going to set us up well and we’re in the best position we can be in,” he added.
The McLaren driver set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 41.993 seconds in the dying seconds of the session after switching to slick tires as the racing line dried. Lewis Hamilton will start from fourth. Championship leader Max Verstappen has a penalty and starts at the back.
Norris drives his McLaren in Sochi.Credit:Getty Images
“It’s my first pole position and hopefully the first of many,” said Norris, who fought to keep his car under control on dry tires in the still-tricky conditions.
“There were plenty of corners where I thought I might have gone in a bit hard here and it’s all going to go rather wrong, but it didn’t. So that’s just, I guess, the level you’ve got to be at to be in this position,” he said. “I’m happy I took those risks and made those decisions because they paid off the way they have. Many times during the lap, I thought it was all going to go quite badly wrong.”
Norris’ McLaren teammate Daniel Ricciardo recorded an upset win at the last race in Italy after Hamilton and Verstappen crashed. Following that up with another McLaren win in Russia will be tricky.
“Hopefully Lando will give me a nice little slipstream into turn one,” Russell said. “We’ve got to be aiming for the podium. We’ve got nothing to lose and we’re just going to go for it.”
Ricciardo, who qualified fifth, was given a reprimand for impeding Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll during qualifying.
Race stewards noted in a statement that the Australian had taken immediate action as soon as he was aware of the Canadian’s presence on a wet track and with heavy spray reducing visibility.
McLaren had warned Ricciardo, whose Monza win was the team’s first victory since 2012, that teammate Lando Norris was coming up behind him but were unaware that Stroll was doing consecutive fast laps and so said nothing about him. The stewards deemed the situation bordered on “unnecessary impeding” but opted for a reprimand as the most appropriate penalty.
McLaren were given an official warning.
‘These things are sent to try us’
Hamilton set the early pace on intermediate tires, but errors toward the end of the session proved costly. The Mercedes driver bumped the wall while coming into the pits and had to change his front wing, and the long delay meant his new slick tires cooled off. After going out, Hamilton lacked grip and had a spin late in the session.
Lewis Hamilton will start from fourth.Credit:Getty Images
Hamilton said he was “incredibly disappointed” that he damaged the car and apologised to the team. “These things are sent to try us, and as much as I feel terrible right now, I’ll turn it into a positive and try to do the best we can,” he said.
Hamilton, the defending champion, will be chasing his 100th career win on Sunday at a track where he has won four times in the past, and where Mercedes cars have won all seven F1 races to date. His teammate Valtteri Bottas starts seventh, and Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez is ninth.
Verstappen leads the championship standings by five points from Hamilton but will start from the back of the grid in the race Sunday because he changed his engine. Mindful of the slippery conditions, Verstappen didn’t try to set a time in qualifying.
Verstappen said incidents near the front of the field would play into his hands during the race.
“I try to score points, but I need a bit of help with things going, let’s say, a bit wrong in the front,” he said.
The Dutch driver had complained of a lack of straight-line speed during Friday practice, even against slower cars, which would hamper him in cutting through the field, but said Saturday that was “not fully representative” of how the Red Bull would work in race conditions.
Charles Leclerc of Ferrari has a similar penalty, as does Nicholas Latifi of Williams.
AP with Reuters
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