Hamilton notches 96th career F1 pole after dramatic Sochi qualifying

Lewis Hamilton recorded an incredible 96th pole position of his glittering career after making it into Q3 by the skin of his teeth following a big crash from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.

When Vettel lost control of his Ferrari into Turn 4 after running over the apex kerb, Hamilton was outside of the top ten when the session was red flagged with just over two minutes remaining. It meant the championship leader was behind a queue of cars when the session restarted, and he had to bolt on the quickest soft tyre and just made it past the start line in time to set his time.

But Hamilton being Hamilton, he set a new lap record in clocking a 1m31.304s time and will start Sunday’s race from pole position ahead of Max Verstappen and teammate Valtteri Bottas, the outgoing Sergio Perez joining the Finn ion the second row of the grid.

Daniel Ricciardo lines up fifth on the grid, continuing the resurgent form of Renault, ahead of Carlos Sainz and Esteban Ocon as Lando Norris, Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon rounded out the top ten.

“The session was one of the worst qualifying sessions, it was horrible!” said Hamilton after stepping from his car and talking to Sky Sports’ guest pundit Stoffel Vandoorne. “Heart in the mouth the whole way, the first one I got the time taken away, which is the first time I’ve gone wide there the whole weekend and I wanted to stay out and do another lap just to get a banker, but they said come in and get new tyres and then the red flag came out so I knew it was a real risk when we got out on that next tyre at the end, and ultimately I’m starting on the soft tyre, which is not good.

“It’s nice to be on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole with the draggier cars this year, so undoubtedly I’m most likely to get dragged past tomorrow and both if the cars I’m racing against are both on the medium tomorrow so definitely going to make it hard to win the race but nonetheless I’m going to stay positive and try and figure out a way to navigate a way through, get a good start, whatever it may be and we’ll see.”

The fact that Hamilton will be starting on the red-banded softest Pirelli compound means that he will have to pit early and hope that his second set of tyres lasts long enough to see him to the end of the race. But it gives his opponents, including Verstappen, a huge tactical advantage going into Sunday’s race.

“We were struggling a bit to find the right balance with the car and on this track it’s quite slippery around here,” said Verstappen. “Even this morning I wasn’t entirely happy and through qualifying we were really working on trying to nail the balance and in Q3 the final run especially, it was not bad, so to be second on the grid I didn’t expect so very, very pleased with that. If we can have a decent start then the tow effect is very big around here, so if I can get a good draft, who knows what’s going to happen going into Turn 2 so it’s going to be interesting as well with the tyres tomorrow.”

Fraser Masefield

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.