Lando Norris, McLaren, Sochi Autodrom, 2021

Norris grabs first F1 pole at Sochi after mistakes leave Hamilton fourth

2021 Russian Grand Prix qualifying

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Lando Norris took his maiden pole position in his Formula 1 career by making the best work out of a drying track after Lewis Hamilton spun.

Norris’ last lap on dry tyres on a still-damp circuit was good enough to take pole position during a frantic conclusion to qualifying as drivers switched from intermediates to dry tyres

Carlos Sainz Jnr will line up second ahead of Williams’s George Russell and Hamilton, who spun on his final attempt at a flying lap.


After final practice was cancelled due to the heavy rain, the drivers were greeted with a very wet Sochi Autodrom for the start of qualifying and the first session of running all day.

With no rain falling on the circuit but plenty of standing water, teams wasted no time in getting their cars out to explore the treacherous conditions. Only Fernando Alonso opted to take to the track with full wet tyres, with the rest of the field deciding there was enough grip available for intermediates instead.

Max Verstappen ventured out for a couple of laps, but pulled into the pits without setting a lap time – his back row start for tomorrow’s race having been predetermined by his power unit grid penalty and his three-place grid drop for his Monza collision with Lewis Hamilton.

With each lap reducing the level of water on the circuit, drivers stayed out on their intermediate tyres with lap times gradually improving as the track began to dry out. Antonio Giovinazzi had a brief spin on the exit of turn 16 but was able to rejoin the track and continue on his way. The Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas sat at the top of the times before Sergio Perez usurped Red Bull’s rivals with the fastest time.

As the clock counted down to the end of the session, George Russell sat on the bubble of elimination in 15th, a second slower than Williams team mate Nicholas Latifi. But as the chequered flag flew, Russell was able to improve up to 11th place.

That left Kimi Raikkonen in 16th and out in his first qualifying session since the Dutch Grand Prix three races ago. He was joined by Mick Schumacher, who outqualified Antonio Giovinazzi in 17th place in the Haas. Nikita Mazepin was the final driver eliminated of those who set a lap time in 19th – albeit almost four seconds slower than team mate Schumacher.

The stewards announced that Daniel Ricciardo was under investigation for impeding Lance Stroll after leaving the pitlane and holding up the Aston Martin driver on the approach to turn two.

Drivers eliminated in Q1

16 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’49.586
17 Mick Schumacher Haas-Ferrari 1’49.830
18 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 1’51.023
19 Nikita Mazepin Haas-Ferrari 1’53.764
20 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda No time

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Carlos Sainz Jnr and Pierre Gasly were both informed by their respective engineers that no more rain was expected for the remaining two sessions of qualifying as Q2 got underway. Intermediate tyres were still the preferred choice of the field, with Hamilton again setting the early pace.

Bottas ruined his first flying lap of the session by locking up under braking for turn two and having to take the escape road as obliged by the race director’s notes for this weekend. His second effort, however, was enough to see him go briefly quickest of all, before he was bested by Mercedes team mate Hamilton.

Gasly was audibly unhappy with George Russell, accusing the Williams driver of impeding him in the final sector. The AlphaTauri’s frustrations were compounded when Russell was able to improve to ninth himself and secure passage through to Q3, with Gasly unable to improve when the chequered flag came out and was eliminated in 12th, just ahead of team mate Yuki Tsunoda.

Sebastian Vettel was the first driver to miss out at the end of the session, just over half-a-tenth slower than Sainz in 11th place. The stewards investigated an incident between Vettel and Tsunoda, but announced that there would be no action taken.

Nicholas Latifi and Charles Leclerc both opted not to participate in Q2, the pair having heavy grid penalties for exceeding their allowance of power units for the season and were duly eliminated in 14th and 15th, respectively.

Drivers eliminated in Q2

11 Sebastian Vettel Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’46.573
12 Pierre Gasly AlphaTauri-Honda 1’46.641
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri-Honda 1’46.751
14 Charles Leclerc Ferrari No time
15 Nicholas Latifi Williams-Mercedes No time

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The track was in its driest state of the session so far when the act of qualifying began with Mercedes immediately sending both their cars out on fresh intermediates. Hamilton was the fastest of the pair after their first attempt at a flying lap, seven tenths to the good over his team mate.

Despite significant sections of water still present off the racing line around the Sochi circuit, Williams gambled by bringing in Russell to move onto soft dry tyres. Russell was joined by Sainz and Norris who also made the switch, but the early laps of the dry tyre runners were no faster than they were on the intermediates.

Mercedes chose to bring both their cars in, but a mistake by Hamilton on the way into the pit lane saw him understeer into the inside of the pit wall. Hamilton managed to drive to the Mercedes pit box, where he was given a fresh set of soft tyres and a new front wing. With Bottas waiting behind his team mate, Hamilton was pushed out of the way to allow Bottas to resume and allow checks of his car to be completed before eventually being sent on his way.

The grip level was still minimal for the dry tyres and lap times were not improving. However, as the chequered flag flew for the final time, the threshold finally appeared to be met as Sainz began to set fastest sectors and jumped to the top of the times. Russell moved to second place, before Norris completed the fastest lap of the session to leap to the front and take provisional pole.

The only driver with a realistic chance of denying Norris was Hamilton, but when the Mercedes spun at turn 16, Norris’s maiden pole position was secured. Sainz will start alongside his former team mate in second, with George Russell starting third in the Williams after another impressive wet qualifying performance.

Hamilton will start from fourth on the grid, ahead of Daniel Ricciardo in the second McLaren. Fernando Alonso will start sixth, with Bottas, Stroll, Perez and Esteban Ocon rounding out the top ten starters.

Top ten in Q3

1 Lando Norris McLaren-Mercedes 1’41.993
2 Carlos Sainz Jnr Ferrari 1’42.510
3 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 1’42.983
4 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’44.050
5 Daniel Ricciardo McLaren-Mercedes 1’44.156
6 Fernando Alonso Alpine-Renault 1’44.204
7 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’44.710
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin-Mercedes 1’44.956
9 Sergio Perez Red Bull-Honda 1’45.337
10 Esteban Ocon Alpine-Renault 1’45.865

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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68 comments on “Norris grabs first F1 pole at Sochi after mistakes leave Hamilton fourth”

  1. “Mistakes” is a very gentle way to refer to crashing your car twice in the span of roughly 5 minutes.

    1. Very sloppy, but I’m a little more forgiving of the second crash. I believe he was down on his fastest lap (and week down on Norris and Sainz), so I understand him trying to push hard in the final sector. And everybody was on the ragged edge or spinning in that corner.

      1. Lewis has been too comfortable the past 8 years in the utterly dominant car, with only one concern: beating a mediocre team mate.

        The English fans like to talk up Bottas and Rosberg but they are Perez/Hulk/Magnussen category.

        1. Although I don’t rate Bottas as champonship contender category, Rosberg is way better than any of the others you mentioned, nevermind the seasons Lewis had to contend against Vettel in the Ferrari.

          I understand people don’t like the same person winning all the time, same happened to Vettel, but this belittling of achievements is ridiculous. No doubt the same will happen to Max in due course.

        2. Yes, I don’t know if he will win this title, if he does it’ll be only through luck, like 2016 if not worse, at least in 2016 rosberg did better than the other years of rosberg, even if hamilton was more deserving, while 2021 hamilton drove worse than most of his other years.

          And I can tell for sure, he won’t win any more titles since 2022, russell will beat him (not gonna say destroy, but he should be stronger).

        3. What a load of nonsense that didn’t even bother addressing my comment. Lazy.

  2. As predicted, Lewis cracking up under the pressure again.
    And the embarrassing part again George in front of him.

    1. I mean seven titles shows he can handle pressure, why people want to make a big deal of it. I’m happy when these things happen as it let’s others jump on the opportunity to grab a first pole and potential first win.

      Congrats to top 3, going to be interesting how they navigate start, who will Norris give tow too. How aggressive will Sainz get. Shaping up to be a good race with Mercs/RB out of position.

      1. What pressure did he have the last years? A part when he lost to rosberg due to crackling under pressure

      2. 7 titles show he can handle pressure? With no competition? The only years we can say he handled pressure and won the title are 2008, 2014 (rosberg was close) and maybe 2018, he definitely drove better than his competitor with a similar car, but was also helped by his competitor being terrible late in the season = less pressure.

    2. Rain is the big equalizer.

      Hence the Merc drivers only 4th and 7th in the dominant cars.

      1. @trib4udi Funny that because Hamilton was the fastest when it was wet every session and his great banker lap got him p4. It turned dry you know…

      2. Indeed, and norris and russell seem constantly strong on the wet, let’s not forget norris was on course for pole even in spa.

    3. Snicker … he’s seldom been under pressure … now who’ll he blame this on? Toto? Bono? WX?

  3. That was unexpected but excellent! A top three of a McLaren, Ferrari & Williams? Amazing.

    I really, truly hope Norris wins the race. I think Hamilton will clear Russell pretty easily but might struggle with Sainz and Norris – both of whom are arguably chasing a long deserved 1st win.

    1. Russell will have to let Lewis pass. Management orders.. New in f1 with a toto special

        1. I hope there will not be any cross connection saying,
          “George, its james…”
          It will be taste of next season

          1. If the 2nd driver is faster than the 1st there’ll be no “george, it’s james”, look at leclerc in 2019, there’s nothing you can do against speed.

    2. Wow, didn’t even think of it, a top 3 with the 3 historical teams, ferrari who began in 1950, mclaren in 1968 and mclaren in 1976 and who were usually the top teams until red bull and mercedes came along.

      1. That was the first thing that entered my head then wishing we still had Lotus, Brabham and Tyrell still with us.

  4. Lewis, Lewis, Lewis! Big fan but where the hell is your head at? Chance after chance keeps going begging! This can be rectified but come on! Not good enough these last 20 races. Still, looking for the win tomorrow!

    1. … last 10 races… not 20

  5. an wonderfully exciting quali!!
    Very nice to see those 3 on top. Some very coolheaded racing (&timing).
    A song from Bowie and Mercury keeps popping into my head as well..funny thing that.

  6. It’s obvious why the stewards are going to allow Verstappen to start, as per article 36.2, but not even setting a time is still disappointing. Lots of fans turn in to see the sports’ best go at it – and for arguable the main star of this season not to even bother is not good from an entertainment perspective.

    After scoring 0 points in the last race, which should have been a Mercedes slam-dunk, Hamilton making more mistakes here is making all the pre-race talk about Verstappen handling pressure look a bit out of place. Still, if conditions are better tomorrow he should be one of the favorites for the win. The start will be crucial, and he’s arguably in a pretty good spot if he can catch the slipstream of one of the leaders. Still, Norris and Sainz are two guys that few would begrudge taking their first win here.

    1. @elchinero True that’s it’s sometimes disappointing to see drivers not competing in qualifying. But the blame lies with the rule makers, not the teams or drivers. The teams are always going to prioritise maximising their own results, and the way grid penalties are applied unfortunately sometimes means drivers are better off not running in qualifying.

      1. True that’s it’s sometimes disappointing to see drivers not competing in qualifying. But the blame lies with the rule makers, not the teams or drivers.

        Of course there is the 107% rule, and rule makers could enforce that.

        1. !07% doesn’t apply for wet quali sessions. To start the race, all Verstappen had to do was put his wheel on track once.

        2. I remember @keithcollantine schooling me on this point a few years ago when Vettel did the same thing in the Red Bull. The 107% rule only applies to drivers who set a time in Q1 – if you don’t set a time at all, you still qualify for the race.

  7. Wow! The comments section of this site is a lot more civilised than other motorport(.com) sites. This is now my go-to place for F1 news.

  8. In dry conditions, tomorrow, the dominant Merc car will bring their drivers to the top of podium.

    But today showed again that Lewis is no topdog anymore.

    1. @trib4udi Who is though? It’s more accurate (and interesting) to think that right now there isn’t one. Certainly when the cars are more levelled, Hamilton no longer dominates. I’ve little doubt Verstappen would have been in the top 3 or nailed pole today. But the performances of Norris and Russell (and Sainz in the end) show that Max too has some serious competition.

      1. @david-br

        Depends on how Rbr would’ve handled the switch to softs, don’t think they sent Perez out. I don’t know why everyone is blowing this out of proportion, it’s almost like we haven’t seen other drivers make equally uncharacteristic mistakes although Hamilton has made a few more than normal this year, I would not be betting against him winning tomorrow. The elusive 100th win…

        1. @icarby nor me. Hamilton started the season fairly well and still outperforms Bottas when it matters most times. Isn’t it symptomatic, though, that he’s not able to impose himself on these wet track qualifications like he used to, even last year? There seems an edge missing this year. Maybe temporary.

      2. Yes, no doubt verstappen isn’t the clear best driver, surely has an edge on experience on the others, but I think russell, norris and leclerc can be every bit as good as him; hamilton though, has another age and is on the way down and it’s showing. Even if he wins this year I don’t think he can even be one of the best 3 drivers of the year, so far verstappen and norris have been better and even leclerc might have been or be by the end of the year.

  9. Brilliant job by the top 3!
    Initially I feared Williams sent George out too early on slicks, but he needed those extra laps to get heat into the tires and get confident with the car. The more laps you do, the better you understand where the grip is and where you have to be cautious.

    McLaren seems to have put Norris in the ideal spot, not too early, but also not too late, as Mercedes did with their drivers. Amazing lap by Lando to put it in pole! He just loves these kind of conditions.

    Sainz also looked very strong until the final sector, where he lost a possible pole position. Ironically, this is now an even better position for Carlos, if he gets a decent (but not too good) start off the line. Depending on how the start goes for Hamilton, Carlos could even win this race or at least get a podium, because the Ferraris were pretty good on their long runs yesterday.

    Mercedes dropped the ball today by not sending their drivers out sooner on slicks. They only gave them time for one flying lap and that simply wasn’t enough. Hamilton didn’t do himself any favour either by crashing at the pitlane entry and damaging his front wing.

    Also a great performance by Mick Schumacher. He was nearly 4(!!) seconds faster than Mazepin on same tires and comparable track conditions! Though that probably says more about Mazepin than it does about Schumacher. But still, he was comfortably faster than Giovinazzi in the Alfa and pretty close to Kimi (just 0.25 off).

  10. I don’t know what the hell Lewis is doing!! The best chance to a flawless weekend and bottles it. Thank God pints are not awarded in quali!

    1. Thank God pints are not awarded in quali!

      Though supplying the top three with copious amounts of alcohol before tomorrow’s race might not be a bad idea for Hamilton/Mercedes…

      1. @david-br
        I apologize for reporting your comment. It was unintentional.

        1. No problem! It’s still here for now anyway, for what it’s worth! :P

        2. They really should add a confirmation button to the Report Comment function.

      2. Typo there @david-br, meant points but guess you already know that haha.

        1. @lems Sorry, some typos just work perfectly :)
          Though I guess it could be pints of milk, as in Indy 500…

  11. I’ve said before this seems like Hamilton’s worst year since 2011. The mistakes aren’t huge but he’s nowhere near the consistency he was showing last season before wrapping up the title. Or the years before. And little real brilliance.

    On the other hand, we’re seeing younger drivers starting to shine – alongside Max. Seems like a gradual power shift taking place.

    1. @david-br +1

      Seems an accurate observation, and one I’m sad to say I share. Sad because I want the best drivers to stay at their peak for as long as possible, but I’m worried the inevitable, age-related decline every driver eventually experiences has started to show.

      Hope he (and Alonso) can prove me wrong and squeeze out a couple more years at close to peak, but not feeling optimistic about it. My rational head says the guard is changing…

      1. Sorry @neilosjames, replied below by mistake.

    2. petebaldwin (@)
      25th September 2021, 16:25

      @david-br – I think several years of only having to go at 80% to win easily has taken a toll. He’s out of practice in terms of having to find the absolute limit and it’s showing with the huge number (for a driver of his standard) of mistakes he’s made this year.

  12. Where was Perez when it counted and the opportunity was there?

    1. Very late on the soft slick tyres, not even hamilton improved his times with cold tires.

  13. @neilosjames It’s difficult to detect that dip – like you mention, Alonso has shown his own signs of brilliance still this year – and if there is one, even more difficult to explain it. Maybe post-Covid effects? Hamilton has clearly been more exhausted after various races, though he did show signs of exhaustion at some other events prior to contracting Covid (one Monaco qualifying battle with Bottas sticks in my mind). Or maybe it’s inevitable age creeping in. Or the pressure of competing against Verstappen in a strong Red Bull. Or just a bad year. Not to say he might have a resurgence of form. Have to say I’m enjoying seeing McLaren back competing, though, and I’m a fan of Russell and Sainz, so tomorrow’s grid is fine by me.

  14. When was the last time we had a McLaren, Ferrari, Williams top 3? Got to be early 2000s right? What a nostalgic qualifying for long time fans.

    1. Generally yes, williams stopped being regularly strong after 2004, however maybe there could be something in 2012, spain example there were both ferrari and williams, and mclaren was still strong in 2012. I hadn’t noticed before someone pointed it out that there was this historical top 3.

      1. @esploratore1 I don’t think there was an instance of McLaren, Ferrari and Williams qualifying 1-2-3 in 2012, although there would have been in Spain except that Hamilton was excluded for running out of fuel on his in-lap.

    2. In the order of McLaren Ferrari Williams, It is 2003 European GP. Just those 3, in any order is Brazil 2004.

      In 2003, it was Kimi, Michael, Ralf

      In 2004 it was JPM, Rubens, Kimi

  15. Norris and Russell, this season’s gifts that keep on giving. I hope next season gives us a grid with several teams fighting for wins, because we have excelent young drivers just waiting to pounce.

  16. Interesting qualifying. Mercedes once again not thinking fast enough in changing conditions. Hamilton looked a bit silly and in hindsight Red Bull and Verstappen must be kicking themselves for starting from the back.
    Btw. What on earth happened to Perez? It should be him picking up the pieces but yet again he’s down in the lower region of the top ten. Was he impeded by the second Hamilton incident or was he juste plain slow?

    1. Plain slow, but I’m not sure how this still surprises people, I said already that extending his contract was way too soon, they should’ve seen how the season continued, he didn’t convince me, he’s not even doing bottas’ job.

  17. Pérez nowhere near were he should be. Fortunately for him, Hamilton’s crash will attract most of the attention.
    Sergio should be in front of the Mercedes, taking points from Lewis while Verstappen is recovering.

    1. He should do a hungary bottas, otherwise he’s really useless, bottas is outperforming him in all metrics.

      1. @esploratore1

        He should do a hungary bottas, otherwise he’s really useless, bottas is outperforming him in all metrics.

        Except tyre management and racecraft, which obviously hasn’t been enough with his terrible qualis and weird mistakes sometimes.

  18. Super chuffed for Norris. He was owed that one from wet Imola and Spa. I really hope he wins now.

    Hamilton lucks in again with Verstappen and Leclerc not in Q3 or he would more than likely have been 6th.

    Perez’ time is up, sorry to say. It’s really bad and not improving. Probably would have been better for Red Bull to have kept Albon in hindsight.

    1. Absolutely, I don’t understand the rush in extending his contract and now? They kept him for 2022 when he’s doing worse and worse?

      1. I think RBR kept SP on for continuity reasons with regards to developing 2022 car. Having 2 drivers drive the 2021 car while working in the sim on the 2022 car should give them a development return next year.

    2. We agree at last Balue. Not a fan of Norris by any stretch but he is some talent.
      Any sane Lewis fame will realise he is having a mare, but… He’s having a mare and only trailing by 5 points. Call it luck, call it fate, call it whatever you want but he’s still in the fight. I’m not sure his head or heart is in it and I don’t care to guess the reasons why. Criticism is fine if deserved.

  19. Great qualifying, almost as entertaining as The Sprint Qualifying at Monza.

  20. It is truly sad.

    Lewis is 7 time champion and one of the most skilled drivers ever to race.

    But the amount of bashing he receives in these threads lack even a modicum of respect.

    I am a big Lewis fan, and I hope he loses the championship and Max can win so most of you can be happy. But just stop the constant tornado of emotion against him. Please!

    1. Cristiano Ferreira
      25th September 2021, 21:49

      Sir Stupid Hypocryte doesn’t deserve any respect.

      Its easy to farm championships while having almost no competition at all.

  21. That was the epitome of racing – brave young guns, high risk and another proof that gambling is not just for fools. I’ve been there today and returned back to the hotel grinning from ear to ear. You folks had to see the crowd at the main grandstand cheering and stomping madly for George when he gambled on slicks and later to all the guys who followed him + standing ovation at after session interviews.

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