Lewis Hamilton admitted that he did not have the pace to match his Ferrari rival Sebastian Vettel after the German and his team brought Mercedes’ dominance in qualifying to an end with a front row lockout for the Russian Grand Prix, their first since the 2008 race in France. The performance demonstrated definitively the resurgence of the Scuderia that has ignited the new Formula One season.
Vettel claimed pole with a perfect lap and was followed by his team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, in second. Hamilton, who had struggled bringing his tyres into their operating window all weekend and with his car’s setup, qualified in fourth behind his team-mate, Valtteri Bottas. “I just wasn’t quick enough today,” said the British driver. “It was all in the last sector, I’ve been struggling there all weekend with the balance and it’s been tough to utilise the tyres.”
After three years of Mercedes dominance, during which Hamilton has won two of his three world championships, he acknowledged that this year Ferrari are proving to be a more than significant threat. “Ferrari did a great job,” he said. “That was the best job I could do today.”
Hamilton was uncharacteristically short of confidence that he could come back against the Ferraris on Sunday. “Currently we are fourth, it’s very hard to overtake and their race pace was better than mine,” he said. “I was more than half a second off the pace today. But we will do some studying and try and turn negatives into positives. Who knows, we should hopefully be in a better position tomorrow.”
This is the first time Mercedes have not had a car on the front row for 31 races and the first time they have not claimed pole for 18 consecutive meetings. Vettel, who leads the Briton by seven points in the world championship, appreciated the significance of the achievement. “Mercedes have been very, very dominant the last years in qualifying, so it’s good to get there,” he said. “It’s been a mega qualifying. The car was really nice to drive and it’s a track where it comes alive.
“I’m sure tomorrow it will be tight with Mercedes. But, as I’ve said many times, I’m happy we got the result today and for the team it’s fantastic.”
The Mercedes executive director, Toto Wolff, conceded that his team were in a real fight and would have to improve. “It was not a fantastic day today,” he said. “Our record of many pole positions in a row ended because we couldn’t put it together. Now we need to learn out lesson and stick our heads together and make it better.”