Charles Leclerc continued his sizzling form by putting his Ferrari on pole position for the Russian Grand Prix.
Leclerc will start from the front of the pack for the fourth consecutive race after the impressive young driver finished a mighty four tenths clear of Lewis Hamilton.
Sebastian Vettel will line up from third ahead of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The Dutchman, however, will be bumped back five places following a grid penalty for changes to his engine.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team have won all five races staged at the Sochi Autodrome, but they will start tomorrow’s race as underdogs to continue that streak.
Indeed, it is Ferrari, winless from the opening half of the season, who are now the team to beat, on course here to win for a fourth consecutive time.
While Vettel ended his 13-month losing streak in Singapore last weekend, it is Leclerc who continues to impress in his opening season with the Scuderia.
This marked his fourth pole in as many races and his sixth in all this season. No driver has more than the 21-year-old Monegasque, and his margin of victory in Sochi was 0.402 sec to Hamilton and 0.425 sec to Vettel. It is also the 10th round in a row Leclerc has out-qualified Vettel, the quadruple world champion.
“It definitely feels great to be back on pole,” said Leclerc, who became the first Ferrari driver since Michael Schumacher to score four poles on the spin.
“That feels very, very special,” he added. “I don’t want to think about that for now but focus on the job. It is a good start and we are looking good for tomorrow.”
Leclerc is 96 points behind Hamilton in the championship with only 156 to play for. Hamilton has not been on pole since the German Grand Prix in July, a streak of five races, but the Mercedes driver was delighted to have split the Ferraris with his final effort.
“I gave it everything I could in the end and I am so glad it came together,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting to be on the front row so I am really happy.
“It was a tough qualifying session because these guys have crazy speed on the straights. They have a jet mode.”
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas, the closest challenger to the Briton’s hopes of securing a sixth world championship, finished fifth. The Finn will join Hamilton on the second row following Verstappen’s penalty.
Earlier, Alex Albon crashed out of qualifying after the London-born Thai spun at the slow-speed turn 13 before slamming into the barriers.
Albon sustained damage to the rear of his Red Bull and the session was suspended to remove his stricken car. He will start from the back tomorrow.
British teenager Lando Norris qualified eighth for McLaren, two places behind his team-mate Carlos Sainz.
Provided by Press Association Sport