Russell qualified 14th in Sochi, one position ahead of Ferrari driver Vettel who exited Q2 after spinning and making heavy contact with unforgiving walls.
Confessing himself as “pleased” with the result, Russell said the team had feared it could have been consigned to the back row after poor showings in the practice sessions.
“It was a really good lap,” the Williams driver told Sky Sports F1.
“Just getting Sebastian at the end as well which was a bonus. I’m really pleased.
“We thought we were a bit behind the Alfas and the Haas on pace before the session. So that was our main goal, to try and out-qualify them.”
Both Haas and Alfa Romeo cars were eliminated in Q1 alongside Russell’s Williams team-mate Nicholas Latifi who qualified 19th.
The session marked the sixth occasion that Russell has escaped the first phase of qualifying in 2020, and the Briton says Williams is now focussed on turning its strong Saturday pace into Sunday results.
He added: “The last couple of weekends we have been focusing more on the Sunday as we have recognised our Saturday pace has been good, but our Sunday pace has not quite matched it.
“We have rebalanced our quali and race pace here, which will put us in a good position tomorrow.
“I think Haas and Alfa still have the edge on us, so I think it will be a race to drive as quick as I can and check my mirrors to make sure they are not going to overtake me.”
Before you go…