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Lando Norris Scores First F1 Pole in Russia

Photo Credit: Unnamed Photographer/Pirelli


In Formula 1's last race in Monza, the sport’s long-running McLaren Racing team completed its gradual return to the top echelon of the sport when Daniel Ricciardo spectacularly took the Italian Grand Prix. Lando Norris finishing second reinforced McLaren’s triumph with the 21-year-old British driver comforted by the likeliest case scenario that he’s in the early stage of a long career in Formula 1 where he stands close to his own success. While that was a thought two weekends ago in Italy, Norris wasted little time after the strong Italian Grand Prix performance to add a major professional milestone.

Rain prior to Saturday’s qualifying at the 5.848-kilometer Sochi Autodrom for the 53-lap Russian Grand Prix made the time trial session tricky for competitors. The showers were so heavy that they caused the cancellation of the third and final practice earlier in the day but qualifying took place after the rain stopped. Teams were left to dial-in their race vehicles for a track that remained wet resulting in the opening Q1 and Q2 sessions of were dominated by the use of intermediate Pirelli tires.

The Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team drivers Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas led the change through the first two segments of time trials. Hamilton’s #44 car was front at the top of the time charts for Q1 with a 1-minute, 45.992-second and a 1-minute, 45.129-second lap time in Q2. However, the seven-time Formula 1 World Drivers’ Champion’s effort to sit on pole in Russia was foiled by two factors in final session. With four minutes remaining in Q3, Hamilton was travelling through the Sochi Autodrom’s pit road and slid wide brushing the retaining wall. The impact damaged the left side of the front wing of the #44 race car that the Mercedes-AMG crew quickly replaced with a new nose assembly. Lewis Hamilton would finish fourth in the final qualifying session was less affected by the pit road incident and more by an emerging trend in the final minutes for setting the Russian Grand Prix grid.

As the race course began to dry, several of the Q3 runners elected to gamble with soft compound slide tires for their final runs. Among the entrants choosing dry weather tires to set a fastest times was the two McLaren Racing vehicles driven by Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. While Ricciardo logged in a respectable fifth quickest time, teammate Norris would top the charts and the grid for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix. Setting a fastest lap of 1-minute, 41.993 seconds, Lando Norris obtained his first career Formula 1 pole in his third full season of competition. For McLaren, the top time in qualifying is the team's first pole position since the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix that was scored by Lewis Hamilton. The team dedidated the long-awaited pole to the late Mansour Ojjeh who was a major McLaren shareholder since the 1980s until his passing this past June.

With the #4 McLaren of Lando Norris earning top starting spot for the Russian Grand Prix, the entire top three had arrived in Russia without a pole. Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr. was more than half a second short of earning a pole settling for a still impressive front row spot. Continuing to stun in Formula 1 qualifying is George Russell and the Williams Racing team taking third in Q3. Russell was under a second slower than Norris but more than a second quicker than his future teammate with Lewis Hamilton. The driver lineup for Mercedes-AMG for the upcoming 2022 will make up the second row in Sochi. The third row of the starting grid will be shared by McLaren Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo and the Alpine F1 Team vehicle driven by Fernando Alonso. Valtteri Bottas starts seventh on Sunday as the Finnish driver and teammate Lewis Hamilton were the only qualifiers in the top-eight setting top times on intermediate tires. Lance Stroll with Aston Martin, Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez as well as Esteban Ocon’s Alpine round out the top 10 for the 2021 Russian Grand Prix’s starting grid.

A notable absence among the front runners in qualifying at the Sochi Autodrom is drivers’ point leader Max Verstappen. The Dutch driver will start in the rear of field for the Russian Grand Prix after his Red Bull Racing team introduced and installed a fourth Honda power unit into his race car. The timing for the powerplant change is seen as opportunistic. Following the Italian Grand Prix where Verstappen and title rival Lewis Hamilton collided, the racing body ruled that driver of the #33 Red Bull Racing machine was at-fault and would have received a three-grid place penalty in qualifying at Sochi. However, the power unit change on Verstappen’s car for the Russian Grand Prix weekend outweighs the grid position loss due to the infraction in Italy. The fresh Honda engine and hybrid powertrain installed to the #33 is also seen as a means to prime Max Verstappen for a championship push. Also going to the back for power unit changes for the Russian Grand Prix is Williams Racing’s Nicholas Latifi as well as Charles Leclerc who is receiving an updated Ferrari powerplant intended to close the gap with Mercedes-Benz and Honda.

The 53-lap Russian Grand Prix is set for a 3 p.m. local time start (8 a.m. eastern time).

2021 Formula 1 Season
Russian Grand Prix
Starting Grid
Pos # Car # Driver Team Engine
1 4 Lando Norris McLaren F1 Team Mercedes-Benz
2 55 Carlos Sainz Jr Scuderia Misson Winnow Ferrari Ferrari
3 63 George Russell Williams Racing Mercedes-Benz
4 44 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes-Benz
5 3 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren F1 Team Mercedes-Benz
6 14 Fernando Alonso Alpine F1 Team Renault
7 77 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes-AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes-Benz
8 18 Lance Stroll Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team Mercedes-Benz
9 11 Sergio Perez Red Bull Racing Honda
10 31 Esteban Ocon Alpine F1 Team Renault
11 5 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin Cognizant F1 Team Mercedes-Benz
12 10 Pierre Gasly Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
13 22 Yuki Tsunoda Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda
14 7 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari
15 47 Mick Schumacher Uralkali Haas F1 Team Ferrari
16 99 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Racing Ferrari
17 9 Nikita Mazepin Uralkali Haas F1 Team Ferrari
18 6 Nicholas Latifi Williams Racing Mercedes-Benz
19 16 Charles Leclerc Scuderia Misson Winnow Ferrari Ferrari
20 33 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing Honda


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