Lewis Hamilton continued his domination of the inaugural Russian Grand Prix to claim the 38th pole position of his Formula One career, but only after a major error from Williams’ Valtteri Bottas.
After finishing comfortably quickest in the second and third practice runs around F1’s newest venue, the Sochi Autodrom, Hamilton’s Mercedes topped the timesheet in all three qualifying sessions and will lead away the field on Sunday.
There was a scare, though, as Bottas was fastest in the first two sectors of the track on his final flying lap, only to make errors over the final third to finish behind Hamilton and the Englishman’s Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg.
After winning the last three races to open up a 10-point lead over Rosberg, Hamilton now starts as favourite to make it four in a row for the second time this season, following his successive victories in Malaysia, Bahrain, China and Spain earlier this year.
Showing a return to form, Jenson Button will start fourth in his McLaren, the veteran Briton’s second best grid slot of the campaign.
Daniil Kvyat, the young Russian, secured the best position of his fledgling career with fifth in his Toro Rosso.
In the second McLaren, Kevin Magnussen qualified sixth, but a five-place penalty for a gearbox change means he will drop to 11th.
That promotes Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, the Ferraris of Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne, and Sebastian Vettel in the second Red Bull.
Vettel, who will leave Red Bull for Ferrari at the season’s end, missed out on the top-10 shoot-out after struggling with rear grip on his car.
Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg was 12th, but also received a five-place penalty for a gearbox change and will drop to 17th.
That elevates his team-mate Sergio Pérez, and the Mexican will be followed by the Saubers of Esteban Gutiérrez and Adrian Sutil, along with Lotus’s Romain Grosjean and Marcus Ericsson in his Caterham.
Ericsson initially dropped out at the end of Q1, finishing ahead of a disgruntled Felipe Massa, whose Williams encountered a fuel-pressure issue that robbed him of speed.
With Bottas starting third, it underlined to Massa just what his car was capable of, but the Brazilian will now have to fight his way through from 18th.
Kamui Kobayashi in his Caterham will start 19th, while Pastor Maldonado, who qualified in 20th, will drop to the back behind Marussia’s Max Chilton.
Maldonado collected a 10-place penalty in Japan for a sixth change of his Lotus’s internal combustion engine, but only served five of those positions, resulting in a carry-over for this race.
The Venezuelan will now line up 21st, with Marussia running only one car this weekend out of respect for Jules Bianchi, who is fighting for his life following a crash into a recovery vehicle at Suzuka.