Russian GP Qualifying: Lando Norris takes epic first F1 pole as Lewis Hamilton crashes twice at Sochi

25 September 2021, 12:49 | Updated: 25 September 2021, 18:03

McLaren's Lando Norris secured an incredible first F1 pole position after a chaotic end to a wet-dry Russian GP qualifying, as Carlos Sainz and George Russell also finished in the top three while big favourite Lewis Hamilton was made to rue a pit-lane crash and a spin on his final lap.

Hamilton will only start fourth for Sunday's race as, in dramatic circumstances, he failed to capitalise on title rival Max Verstappen's engine penalty.

  • Lewis Hamilton: Mistakes 'not what you expect from a champion'
  • Russian GP Qualifying results
  • Lando Norris reflects on incredible maiden F1 pole

The world champion had been in control of a damp Sochi shootout before the field gambled onto soft tyres at the end of Q3 - and Hamilton hit the wall when driving slowly through the pits, and broke his front wing.

Mercedes were able to repair his car but Hamilton then only had one lap on the slick tyres in difficult drying conditions, while other drivers were able to build up to one final flying effort.

Sainz was the first driver to overhaul Hamilton, who had provisional pole, before Norris then stormed through to top qualifying for the first time in his dazzling young F1 career, beating the Ferrari by half a second.

"It feels amazing," said Norris after backing up McLaren's Italian GP win in style.

In more surprise scenes, Russell displayed his qualifying brilliance in the Williams once again by outpacing Hamilton - his team-mate at Mercedes next year - with an epic late surge.

Hamilton, lacking grip in his tyres, wasn't improving on his last lap and then spun and nudged into the wall in the final sector.

"Twice in the wall... that's very rare for me," said Hamilton, who finished two seconds off the pace with his intermediate-tyre lap. "I'm really sorry to all the team because that's not what you expect from a champion."

He is still set to start Sunday's race 16 places ahead of Verstappen, who didn't post a time in qualifying and leads the championship by five points, but missed out on a big opportunity to dominate the weekend from pole.

Hamilton's delayed stay in the pits also hampered team-mate Valtteri Bottas. Bottas had similarly been flying in qualifying prior to the closing stages and topped both practice sessions, but finished only seventh after finding himself stuck behind Hamilton as his front wing was repaired.

Daniel Ricciardo, the Italian GP winner, finished fifth in the other McLaren ahead of Fernando Alonso.

Sergio Perez, meanwhile, leading Red Bull's flag in Verstappen's absence from the front of the grid, showed flashes of pace at the start of qualifying but finished down in ninth.

Russian GP: Qualifying top-10 result
1) Lando Norris, McLaren
2) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
3) George Russell, Williams
4) Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
5) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
6) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
7) Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes
8) Lance Stroll, Aston Martin
9) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
10) Esteban Ocon, Alpine

Hamilton 'incredibly disappointed' as super Norris stars

With final practice cancelled due to the deluge of rain that hit Sochi in the early morning, we were made to wait a while for some Saturday track action. And while there were few incidents through Q1 and Q2, it's safe to say Russian GP qualifying was worth the wait - and absolutely no one would have predicted a McLaren-Ferrari-Williams top three.

Norris, meanwhile, enhanced is already glowing reputation with a pole he has threatened to secure all season.

While he had been battling towards the front throughout the afternoon, the pole opportunity was provided to him via the changing weather conditions, and utter chaos in the Mercedes pit-lane.

Mercedes defended Hamilton, insisting their qualifying setback was just "really unfortunate", and that the Englishman's crash wouldn't have actually made a difference to how many laps they could complete on slicks at the end.

But Hamilton, who dominated the first two segments and looked set for just his second pole in 11 races, took full responsibility for a difficult day.

"It was just a mistake from myself," he said. "I'm incredibly disappointed in myself.

"Up until then I was in the groove, I was really in the zone, and I'm really sorry to all the team because that's not what you expect from a champion. It is what it is and I will do my best tomorrow to try and rectify it."

He added: "These things are sent to try us. I feel terrible right now but I'll turn it into a positive."

Sunday's race - which could see some showers, too - is live on Sky Sports F1 from 1pm.