Work to do for the championship leader and an opportunity for the reigning champion
Lando Norris starts on pole for the first time in his F1 career as round 15 takes place in Sochi.
In a wet Saturday qualifying session, the 21-year-old drove the fastest lap to put his McLaren out front, avec Lewis Hamilton only managing fourth and Max Verstappen starting from the very back of the grid as they battle for the championship.
Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari and Williams’ George Russell are the drivers starting immediately behind Norris, but with more rain forecast for this afternoon and a mixed-up grid order, this is an impossible race to predict.
The Sochi circuit usually isn’t the most popular on the calendar with either drivers or fans, but with the likes of Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc starting from the rear of the field there combined with the weather, there should be far more overtaking opportunities than in previous years.
Verstappen currently leads the championship by five points, and will need to fly up the order to prevent Hamilton from overtaking him with only eight races to go. Mercedes are ahead in the constructors’ championship, leading Red Bull by 18 points.
Follow the action live from the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi below:
Hamilton overtakes Alonso
LAP 2/53: Just as I type that, Hamilton hangs a long move around the outside of turn three and overtakes Alonso who is on the slower hard tyre.
This is properly frenetic already. Sainz leads, with Norris second and Russell third.
Hamilton down to seventh
LAP 1/53: This is a superb opening lap!
Lance Stroll has made it up to fourth and that means Lewis Hamilton is down to seventh!
The championship contender has endured a dreadful start and needs to recover very quickly here. Fernando Alonso is immediately in front of him.
LIGHTS OUT! Sainz takes the lead!
LAP 1/53: Lights out and the race is underway!
Sainz takes the lead from Norris into turn two while Hamilton has been shuffled down to fifth place after losing places to Alonso and Ricciardo!
Top five on medium tyres
The top five starters will all be using the medium tyres, with Fernando Alonso in sixth on the hards.
That strategy choice from the Alpine team could bring Alonso into play later in the race when he will be able to use faster rubber than those around him.
Norris warned on rain
Pole-sitter Lando Norris has been warned by his McLaren engineer that rain is coming between five and fifteen minutes after the start of the race.
It is expected to be “light”, mais, so no guarantee that it requires wet or intermediate tyres.
Threat of rain remains says Toto Wolff
Toto Wolff has been speaking about the weather on Sky Sports and says he was expecting rain to arrive “ten minutes ago,” but the fact it has yet to appear means it could pour during the race itself.
The drivers will be starting on dry tyres but there is a significant chance that the race turns wet at some stage, making this an extremely difficult race to predict.
Throw in the mixed-up grid order and we could be in for a belter, ici. Just a few minutes now until lights out.
Norris talks excitement of starting on pole and win chances
Lando Norris has been telling Sky Sports about his emotions as he starts on pole position for the first time in his Formula 1 carrière, but isn’t expecting to win the race this afternoon.
"Je suis surexcité. It’s a long run down to turn two so there’s a lot of guys who I’ll be watching for in my mirrors”, the 21-year-old said.
“We have a chance [of winning]. We want a good result, whether that’s first, second or third. I’m racing everyone today unless they pass me are convincingly quicker, which I expect Lewis to be and maybe Bottas and Verstappen towards the end of the race.”
Russell talks up Williams chances
George Russell has been discussing his plans for the start of the Grand Prix and is confident he won’t be a sitting duck with Hamilton in behind.
“We’ve got a slippery car on the straights which will help us into the first real corner. We haven’t got the fastest car but we’re the fastest on the straights. If there’s an opportunity we’re going for it. There’s no reason we can’t defend our position well.
“The others will probably be able to pass us in the pit stops no matter what so we’ll see what happens.”
Horner responds to Mercedes tactical demotion of Bottas
Horner has also been talking to Sky Sports about his team’s response to Mercedes demoting Valterri Bottas down the grid in order to block Verstappen’s progress.
“We’re not privy to all their info. You can read many different aspects into that.
To get ahead we’re going to have to pass [Bottas] à un moment donné. It doesn’t change our start position, so we’ll just get our head down and get on with it. It moves Checo onto the dirty said of the grid. There’s a threat of a bit of a rain as well, it’s all going on!"
Horner says Hamilton is favourite to win from fourth
Red Bull team principal has been discussing his driver’s chances this afternoon, and believes Mercedes are still favourites to win the race with Lewis Hamilton despite him starting in fourth place.
“We can’t control what Mercedes are doing. We’re going to attack this race and see where we come out”, he told Sky Sports.
“Any variable [rain] when you’re starting at the back is useful. If Max can get into the top five from where he is, we’d take that. Lewis has got to be favourite for today.”