Story of qualifying: Bottas tears up Mercedes' script

In a qualifying session reminiscent of Formula One circa 2014-2016, Ferrari had no answer for Mercedes over a single lap. Nate Saunders analyses the main talking points from the Sochi Autodrom.

Shock: We have spent a lot of time talking about Sebastian Vettel’s mistakes this year but Lewis Hamilton made a pretty big one in Q3, running wide on his final attempt to beat Valtteri Bottas and blowing his last chance at pole position. He still had a comfortable second on the grid but the consequence of the mistake is that he will start just ahead of his main championship rival Sebastian Vettel.

Shocker: The second session of qualifying was a really bad advert for F1. Q2 ended in bizarre circumstances, owing to a regrettable quirk of the weekend we’ve seen too often in 2018. Due to the fact the hyper-soft tyre — the softest in this weekend’s race — does not look like much of a race tyre, Renault opted to prevent either of its drivers setting a time at the end of the middle session.

That meant Carlos Sainz and Nico Hulkenberg qualified 14th and 15th — which will become 11th and 12th once the three cars in front serve engine penalties (another regrettable part of F1’s current rules). The obvious bonus is that, by not progressing through to Q3, the Renault drivers can choose to start the race on a more favourable tyres while its main midfield rivals will have to settle for an opening stint on the hyper-soft.

Midfield watch: Kevin Magnussen was the quickest qualifier in the midfield group in Q3, but both Haas and Force India drivers will be disadvantage from the fact they advanced to the final session. Renault starts further back but has the tyre advantage mentioned above — the pace between those teams has been close all weekend, meaning we could be in for a very tight battle on Saturday afternoon.

Snorechi Boredodrom: That wasn’t the most riveting qualifying session in the history of F1, and it followed a series of rather dull practice sessions. It was hardly a ringing endorsement of the Sochi Autodrom circuit which is yet to provide a genuinely thrilling F1 session since joining the calendar in 2014.

Another dismal day for the 1990s giants: McLaren and Williams saw both cars eliminated in Q1, something which has become too regular an occurance this season. A generation of F1 fans grew up watching those two teams set the benchmark every weekend and it is baffling to see how far both have fallen and difficult to see a quick turnaround for either of them.

Championship conundrum for Mercedes: Mercedes is in a similar situation to Ferrari at Monza, in that the wrong guy is starting from pole tomorrow (from the perspective of the championship). Ferrari will hope to be closer in the race than it has been so far this weekend. If it is, the Sochi layout creates a perfect opportunity for Sebastian Vettel to make something happen…

First corner watch: The long run down to Turn 2 makes every start here pretty difficult to predict. Valtteri Bottas jumped both of the red cars off the line last year to win — Sebastian Vettel’s best chance of claiming a much-needed victory of his own here is to do the same to the silver cars tomorrow. He has less to lose than Hamilton, so it will be fascinating to see what happens if the two of them are wheel to wheel as they approach the apex.