Sochi, Russia - Valtteri Bottas took pole position for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday with Mercedes team-mate and Formula One leader Lewis Hamilton having to settle for second place on the starting grid.
Hamilton's Ferrari title rival Sebastian Vettel, 40 points behind him with six races remaining in the battle of four-times world champions, will start third at the Black Sea circuit on Sunday.
"It feels good," said Bottas. "Coming to this weekend I knew that normally it's been a pretty good track for me and again I managed to get some good laps in. The car just felt really strong."
The pole, in a track record time of 1m31.387s, was only the second this season for Bottas, who is 110 points behind Hamilton. It also came at the circuit where in 2017 he celebrated his first win.Hamilton, who had been fastest in the first two parts of the session and looked set for a career 80th pole until he went wide at Turn 7, said: "He's driven brilliantly this weekend and he just did a better job.
"My last two laps of Q3 weren’t great - you can’t always have it - but we’re still in contention for tomorrow," added defending world champion, who will be chasing his eighth win of the season. "It's a long way down to turn one so we'll still have a fight at least tomorrow."
Team boss Toto Wolff said Bottas "was so pumped the adrenalin was coming out of his ears" but left open a question about whether Mercedes would enforce team orders in Hamilton's favour come race day.
Vettel, who had led an all-Ferrari front row in Russia in 2017 with Bottas third, hoped Sunday could see the tables turned. He told reporters: "I just spoke to Valtteri and reminded him what happened last year so maybe we can turn that around this time.
"It was important to get as close to them but it is true they have been very quick," he added. "It is a long race and the tyres will be important. We should've been a lot closer. The car felt alright so that makes me happy. If there is a gap we will go for it."
The second phase of qualifying had a strange feel to it, with five cars - the two Red Bulls, Renaults and Toro Rosso's Pierre Gasly - doing no laps as a consequence of grid penalties.Renault had no need to do anything, since the other three cars were all going to start at the back of the grid, and failure to qualify in the top 10 gave them the benefit of tyre choice.
'Best of the rest'
Kevin Magnussen will line up fifth for Haas, behind Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, with Esteban Ocon - highly rated but looking increasingly likely to be sitting out in 2019 - sixth for Force India.
"It's strange being best of the rest," commented Magnussen. "You don't want to get involved with the guys in front as that can mess up your own race. Hopefully I will have a clean track."
Sauber's Ferrari-bound rookie Charles Leclerc qualified seventh, and McLaren and Williams filled the final four slots but that will change once Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, along with Toro Rosso's Gasly and Brendon Hartley, take their penalties.
That should at least give the crowd some overtaking to look forward to and Verstappen something to make his 21st birthday more exciting.
RESULTS - Q3:
1 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 1m31.387s
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.145s
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +0.556
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +0.850
5 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1.794
6 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +2.026
7 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +2.032
8 Sergio Perez (Force India) +2.176
9 Romain Grosjean (Haas) +2.317
10 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) +3.809
Q2: (Bottom five are eliminated)
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1m32.595s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.149s
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +0.450
4 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +0.470
5 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +0.893
6 Romain Grosjean (Haas) +0.922
7 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1.001
8 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1.192
10 Sergio Perez (Force India) +1.328
11 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) +1.400
Max Verstappen (Red Bull) - No time
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) - No time
Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) - No time
Carlos Sainz (Renault) - No time
Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) No time
Q1: (Bottom five are eliminated)
1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1m32.410s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +0.554
3 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) +0.638
4 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.837
5 Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +0.931
6 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +1.066
7 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +1.514
8 Romain Grosjean (Haas) +1.612
9 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1.668
10 Sergio Perez (Force India) +1.674
11 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) +1.760
12 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +1.880
13 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) +1.973
14 Carlos Sainz (Renault) +2.216
15 Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) +2.245
16 Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) +2.627
17 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +3.094
18 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) +3.202
19 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) +3.567
20 Lance Stroll (Williams) +4.027Reuters