Formula 1

Lewis Hamilton holds on for first Sochi pole

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Lewis Hamilton hung on to claim pole position for the first Russian Grand Prix in an eventful qualifying at Sochi.

The championship leader posted a 1:38.513 on his final run that was just enough as team-mate Nico Rosberg finished second and Valtteri Bottas missed his chance as he lost grip in the final few corners and had to settle for third.

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McLaren & Toro Rosso impress

After appearing to have lost some of their improved speed from Friday during Saturday morning practice, McLaren and Toro Rosso proved they were just holding back until the main event.

Both teams got both cars into the top 10 and McLaren will enjoy their best starting positions since Silverstone as Jenson Button claimed fourth with Kevin Magnussen taking sixth with a good last lap.

The only disappointment for the Dane is he will take a five-place grid drop for a gearbox change demoting him to 11th.

As for Toro Rosso, 2015 Red Bull driver Daniil Kvyat scored his best qualifying result of his debut season in fifth at his home race, he will be the lead of the four Red Bull-backed cars as Daniel Ricciardo could only manage seventh and Jean-Eric Vergne will be tenth in the second STR9.

Vettel and Massa shock

With the surprises in the top 10 came some major shocks as Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel fell short of expectations.

For Massa, his qualifying was hampered from the start as a fuel pressure problem meant he was getting much reduced power from the Mercedes unit in his Williams.

As a result, the Brazilian will start Sunday's race from 18th though may take a penalty if he needs to change his engine.

Meanwhile Vettel was just struggled for rear grip in his Red Bull on a circuit where in previous years his blown diffuser would have likely seen him dominate.

He was four tenths slower than team-mate Ricciardo in the second segment and that meant he missed out on the top 10 in 11th, the first time he has done so since Austria, he will, however, start 10th after Kevin Magnussen's penalty.

The Australian's victory over Vettel in qualifying also means that at 10-6, Ricciardo will become the first driver to beat Vettel on a Saturday as a team-mate over a full F1 season.

See Also:

- Hamilton moves clear in second Sochi practice
- FIA considering 'slow zones' in response to Bianchi crash

The midfield pack

In a closely contested midfield, as two seconds covered fourth to 16th in the crucial second part of the session, Ferrari were the quiet yet consistent team as both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen made the top 10.

With the top six filled by either Mercedes powered and/ or slippery cars, the two former world champions had to settle for eighth and ninth as the F14-T continues to not really suit the Sochi layout.

Another qualifying, another disappointment for Force India as again both cars missed out on the top 10.

Sergio Perez will start 12th with Nico Hulkenberg 16th after his gearbox penalty and with tyre degradation expected to be low and McLaren very strong, Russia could be a major turning point in their battle for fifth in the Constructors' championship.

Sauber appear to have found a little more speed than in recent races, both Adrian Sutil and Esteban Gutierrez comfortably beat their main rivals at Lotus as Romain Grosjean only managed 16th. His team-mate Pastor Maldonado endured mechanical problems and, carrying on his penalty for using a sixth component of his power unit in Japan, will start last.

Excellent Ericsson

The past few races have seen something of a turnaround for Caterham's Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson.

After being largely beaten and overshadowed by anyone who stepped into the sister car, he made it two straight races as the fastest of the two slower teams, even beating Massa to claim 17th.

For Ericsson it seems getting to grips with the brake-by-wire system introduced for 2014 has been his biggest problem and now he seems to be overcoming that important issue, is showing much better speed.

Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi will start 19th as Max Chilton set the slowest time in qualifying in the sole Marussia.

Another Hamilton win in the bag?

For Lewis Hamilton, however, his domination of the first Grand Prix weekend in Sochi continues albeit in slightly less convincing fashion than we thought.

He certainly seems to have the edge over team-mate Nico Rosberg, but maybe his biggest challenge could come from Valtteri Bottas in the Williams.

The Finn has been among the fastest in a straight line all weekend and although we don't know how easy overtaking could be, if the tyre degradation is as low as thought then he could easily challenge both Silver Arrows throughout the race.

Certainly giving my prediction for Sunday I think Hamilton has enough to make if four wins in a row for the second time this year, but with safety cars likely and quite a few unknowns heading into the race, don't rule anything out just yet.

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Formula 1

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