Mercedes deliberately opted to go for the alternate strategy to Ferrari for F1 Russian GP with the Italian manufacturer registering its fourth consecutive pole via Charles Leclerc.
When the checqered flag dropped at the end of Q3 in F1 Russian GP at Sochi Autodrom, it was Leclerc with his fourth consecutive pole, but that wasn’t the only story to come out of Saturday’s hour-long session.
Immediate rivals Mercedes went opposite to Ferrari in terms of their tyre choice for the start of the race with the medium rather than the favored red-striped soft by rest of the Top 10 runners.
“We know that they are on a slightly lower drag level this weekend plus they have that power, so we’ve got to try something,” said Hamilton, explaining the teams’ decision to run the harder compound.
“It’s a long way down to Turn 1, so it’s not always the best for starts on the harder tyre, but I’m going to try to two the hell out of Charles if I get the chance. But it’s going to be hard because they get good starts as well.
“The team did a great job to put us on the mediums and naturally from the two tyres there’s obviously a delta and the softer the tyre the better the start.
“But even if we were in the lead, if we were on pole for example, they are just so fast on the straights by the time we get to Turn 1, which is the little kink, they blast past us with the jet fuel or whatever it is.
“It is about strategy, which is why we are on a different tyre and I hope that we can utilise that and keep the pressure on. If you’ve seen the couple of races we’ve had we’ve been right with them.
“I’m hoping we can really give them a good fight.” Mercedes’ choice to run the harder compound is a bit of a double-edged sword as on one hand, the track has been overheating tyres throughout practice sessions.
And the remarkably smooth surface has been leaving tyres with very little grip, which could play into Mercedes’ hands, but on the other side of the coin, Mercedes will lack grip and pace at the start.
However, while Mercedes’ Sunday is still up in the air, they’re certainly happy about how Saturday went for Hamilton, who was quite chuffed to split the two Ferrari drivers with Sebastian Vettel only third.
Teammate Valtteri Bottas lost out to be fifth after a rear snap on his final lap but with penalty to Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen, he will start from fourth alongside Vettel and ahead of McLaren and Renault.
While the Mercedes have the medium tyres to start off as their strategy, Ferrari seemed happy with the soft compound as pole-sitter Leclerc even felt the race pace looked much better from the Friday runs.
“On our side I think the start is very important here and we thought that the benefits of starting on soft was big,” said Leclerc. “And then there was not much difference, in terms of degradation, from the soft to the medium.
“So, we thought it was worth it to make it our start tyre. I believe that our long run pace was extremely positive, I think probably the most positive of the whole season, so this is looking good.
“But it’s going to be an interesting race. I mean, as said, Mercedes are starting on the medium, so I think the strategy will play a role.” Ferrari teammate Vettel concurred with Leclerc, while adding about his session.
The German looked good until his final lap where he couldn’t improve in the first two sectors. “I was quite happy in general,” he said. “Obviously a bit disruptive with Q1 where we got a bit unfortunate.
“I thought by the time we got to Q3, that was fine. I think overall I was pretty happy with the car. I just felt that there was more in the car that, yeah, I couldn’t get to [in the end].”
It looks like a two-horse battle as the third wheel, Red Bull seems out of touch especially after Alexander Albon’s early off. He joined the many drivers that lost it in Turn 13 but he had heavy damage.
The Thai racer reckoned a gust of wind took away a large amount of rear downforce, sending him into a spin. He is to start from the back of the grid, while teammate Verstappen will start from ninth.
“I got caught out a bit with the wind,” said Albon. “It was tricky out there, and yeah, just went in a bit deep. I thought I’d get away with it, or else I’d have aborted the corner and gone to the escape road.
“But I kind of tried to stay on, keep the corner let’s say, and yeah, just lost the rear. With a tailwind through there, it’s not easy and the wall’s very close on the exit. Unfortunately that was that.”
The story was written by Duncan Leahy and edited by Darshan Chokhani