SOCHI, Russia — Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg took pole position for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday ahead of his teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton.
Rosberg set an unbeatable time of 1 minute, 37.113 seconds midway through the final qualifying session in Sochi, more than three tenths of a second faster than Hamilton.
The top drivers had been in an uncertain situation ahead of qualifying after rain and various incidents, including a heavy crash for Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, reduced dry practice time to a minimum.
“Very happy. It’s been a difficult weekend because of the little running we got,” Rosberg said.
Hamilton challenged for the top spot with an aggressive final lap but ran off track and aborted the attempt. He said he was pleased to see Mercedes defy predictions that the team’s car could struggle in Russia as it had on the similar Singapore circuit last month.
“Coming into the weekend, people were making assumptions that we’d have a repeat of Singapore,” Hamilton said. “Honestly, I had no idea what it was going to be like and to think that now we’re the other way, it’s very, very strange. I don’t have an answer for it.”
“The car felt good otherwise on the tires today. I don’t know how it will be for the race.”
Hamilton has a lead of 48 points over Rosberg with five races remaining. The Mercedes team can secure the constructors’ title Sunday.
In cool, cloudy conditions, Williams’ Valtteri Bottas took third ahead of the two Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen.
“I think we got it right. We got the max out of the car and tires,” said Bottas.
Amid concerns the team may not return next season, the two Red Bull cars were off the pace in qualifying, with Daniel Ricciardo 10th, one place ahead of Daniil Kvyat, who disappointed his home crowd in Russia by failing to reach the final qualifying session.
Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz did not compete in qualifying after a high-speed crash in the final practice session. His team says he is uninjured but will spend the night in hospital as a precaution.
Sainz’s Twitter account posted a picture of him giving a thumbs-up sign from his hospital bed with the caption: “Already thinking how to convince the doctors to be on the grid for tomorrow.”
James Ellingworth, The Associated Press