Britain’s brightest young stars shone in the rain and gloom of qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix. With McLaren’s Lando Norris claiming his first pole and George Russell in third for Williams, this was a definite warning that the future of Formula One is grim. Their role model and inspiration, Lewis Hamilton, was after them, however, disappointed and regretful after a very unusual mistake left him in fourth place.
Hamilton threw up his hands after hitting the wall at the pitlane entrance. “It was a mistake. I’m incredibly disappointed in myself,” he said. “Until then I was on the pace, I was in the zone. That’s not what you expect from a champion.”
Norris and McLaren were delighted after taking first place. After his first win in nine years in the final round at Monza, Norris has now achieved his first pole since 2012. He delivered with timing and precision to master tough, wet and dry conditions with an ease and confidence that Hamilton would recognize, finishing a half second ahead of the second classified Ferrari of Carlos Sainz.
“It was tough. I’m going to make it sound good, but it was tough,” Norris said. It’s my first pole position and hopefully the first of many ”.
For Russell, who will join Hamilton at Mercedes next season, he once again outpaced his car to set a magnificent final lap. He was the first driver to test slick tires in the final laps and his choice was the right one, as the grip got to him and he was up to the occasion.
Norris is only 21 years old and is now the youngest British driver to take pole, while Russell is 23. Both are in their third season in F1 and their performances confirm that they are two of the most promising young drivers in the sport.
Behind them, Hamilton, with seven titles and at 36 years of age, the master of changing conditions, failed just as he was presented with the best opportunity to pressure his rival for the title, Max Verstappen. The Dutchman has a five-point lead in the championship, but will start at the back of the grid due to penalties for taking his fourth power unit. This was Hamilton’s chance to regain the lead with a large number of points.
I may still win, but a pole would have made it a lot easier. In the final minutes of Q3, Hamilton hit the wall on his way back to the pits and suffered damage to his left front wing, which had to be replaced. Mercedes pulled it out, but only with enough time for a quick lap.
A drying line had allowed the teams to take chances on slick tires and Norris and Russell switched early for several laps on the new rubber to warm them up before their final laps. After fitting a new nose, Hamilton only had one lap to do it and, with no temperature, he turned on his last lap.
Team principal Toto Wolff said Mercedes had committed to its plan to open laps in Q3 on intermediate tires and therefore would not have had time to do more than one lap on the slicks, suggesting that regardless Hamilton’s accident, I would. You haven’t had time to warm up your tires yet. Given the conditions, having a banker in the interest made sense, but it was the opposition’s gamble that paid off.
Heavy and persistent rain throughout the morning had threatened qualifying, with final practice being abandoned due to conditions, but he kept going on a wet and tricky track where Mercedes seemed to have the whip until the final moments.
On his first fastest lap in Q3 and with the teams still running on intermediate tires, Hamilton had the lead, faster by seven tenths above his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, before the final drama unfolded and Norris produced a magnificent run of 1 minute 41.993 seconds. .
Hamilton remained optimistic: overtaking is possible in Sochi and dry weather is expected on Sunday. Given that Mercedes has demonstrably the fastest car here over the weekend, it may come back, but the next generation of F1 will not be afraid to take on the champion and certainly will not be willing to make it easy for them.
Daniel Ricciardo was fifth for McLaren. Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon finished sixth and 10th for Alpine, with Bottas seventh. Lance Stroll was eighth for Aston Martin and Sergio Pérez ninth for Red Bull.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc was 15th but, having taken a new fourth power unit, he will start from 19. Williams’s Nicholas Latifi also took new power unit components and was 14th but will start from 18.
Sebastian Vettel was 11th for Aston Martin with Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauris at 12th and 13th.
Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Räikkönen and Antonio Giovinazzi were at 16th and 18th, with Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin at 17th and 19th for Haas.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism