After Ferrari looked the clear favourites after leading all three practice sessions, Charles Leclerc claimed pole position for the fourth successive grand prix in dominant fashion, joined by Lewis Hamilton on the front row for the third race in a row.
With both Red Bull’s taking penalties in preparation for the following race in Japan, it looked that Ferrari and Mercedes would be the teams duelling for pole position.
Daniil Kvyat’s qualifying session ended before it even begun as he took no part following an engine issue he suffered in FP3, a similar problem to what he suffered on Friday.
The Russian was starting from the back of the grid regardless for taking on the new Honda engine alongside other PU components.
Ferrari started Q1 on the medium tyres, opting to save a set of soft tyres for the rest of the session. The 18 other drivers opted for the soft tyres in the first phase in qualifying.
Vettel’s lap looked solid up until he lost the read at Turn 13, forcing the German to abandon his lap and go again.
Leclerc had a much better first lap as he set a 1:33.613, safely making it into Q2 and remained in the garage for the rest of the session.
Kubica, who was racing at the Sochi Autodrom for the first time in his racing career, also had issues at Turn 13 as he locked up into the corner and took to the escape road. The incident brought out yellow flags, which hurt both Vettel and Albon as they were trying to set laps good enough to make it into Q2.
Albon was the third individual to have drama at Turn 13, but his mistake would be more costly. The London-born Thai driver lost the car by carrying too much speed into the corner, with the Red Bull going rear-first into the barrier, resulting in terminal damage. The crash brought out a red flag, temporarily stopping the session.
The red flag was yet another hindrance for Vettel as he was trying for a third flying lap on the medium tyres but was unable to complete it when the session was brought to a halt.
As Albon hadn’t set a lap good enough to make it into Q2 prior to the crash, he would join Kvyat as drivers out of Q1 whilst also carrying his five-place grid drop.
Once the session resumed, Ferrari sent Vettel out on the soft tyres to ensure that he would safely make it into Q2. The four-time world champion set the fastest lap of the session with a 1:33.032, at the expense of a set of medium tyres.
Russell was not happy being sent out in traffic on his final Q1 lap after a similar situation happened during qualifying in Singapore, and wasn’t afraid to make his feelings known to the team over the radio.
Raikkonen struggled on his final lap as he oversteered in the final corner, which proved costly as his team-mate Giovinazzi improved to make it out of Q2 at the expense of the 2007 World Champion. The Finn keeps up his record of failing to out-qualify a team-mate at Sochi.
Raikkonen, Russell and Kubica joined Albon and Kvyat as those eliminated in Q1.
In Q2, it was Mercedes who started the session on the medium tyres in preparation for the race on Sunday. The rest of the field opted for the soft tyres to take them in Q3.
Mercedes were seven-tenths down on Leclerc on their first flying laps, albeit the Monegasque were on softer tyres compared to Hamilton and Bottas.
Sandwiched between Leclerc and Mercedes was Vettel and Verstappen, who were six-tenths slower than the fastest lap in Q2.
Vettel went for a second run in the closing stages of Q2 and improved to go within a tenth of his team-mate.
Stroll, needing to improve to make it into Q3, made an error in turn seven that saw him run over the orange kerb and failing to improve in 13th place.
Grosjean and Ricciardo had very good laps on their final runs that allowed them to make it into Q3 alongside Hulkenberg and the two McLarens.
Gasly, also with a five-place grid penalty, followed Perez, Giovinazzi, Magnussen and Stroll out of Q2.
Leclerc, who has taken pole position in the last three events, took provisional pole on his first Q3 flying lap, three-tenths faster than team-mate Vettel and ahead of the two Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas.
On his first flying lap, Hamilton was half a second down on Leclerc’s time whilst Bottas was a further three-tenths behind. After he completed his lap, Hamilton went onto the radio to state he was having problems with gear shifts for the team to investigate in preparation for his final Q3 run.
Hulkenberg’s first lap saw him qualifying 6th and a half a second clear of the midfield in his final Russian Grand Prix as a Renault driver.
Vettel only improved in the final sector on his second, whilst Leclerc improved by two tenths to take a comfortable fourth pole position with a 1:31.628.
Hamilton improved to snatch a front row grid slot away from Vettel, but was four-tenths behind Leclerc’s pole position time. Despite missing pole position, Hamilton seemed happy over the radio with his performance on his final run.
Verstappen qualified fourth, but his five-place penalty means he will drop to ninth on the grid for the race on Sunday.
Bottas pitted before completing his lap after making a mistake on the final lap and finished in fifth place. This is the first time the Finn has been out-qualified by a team-mate in Russia on the track where he took his maiden race victory in 2017.
Sainz had a strong final lap to take him ahead of the midfield in sixth, with Hulkenberg, Norris, Grosjean and Ricciardo rounding out the top 10.