The last two races of 2018 have been a reminder that Formula One has a bright future. Lando Norris and Carlos Sainz have both won their first race, while George Russell scored his maiden victory in the Japanese Grand Prix.
12:56 p.m. Eastern
Laurence Edmondson is a British actor.
- • In 2009, he joined ESPN.
- • Since 2011, I’ve been an FIA-accredited F1 journalist.
Nate Saunders is an American football player.
Associate Editor for F1
- • Worked in rugby union and British Superbikes before.
- • Reading University history graduate
- • In February 2014, he joined ESPNF1.
It’s a qualifying top three, but not in the traditional sense. Due to challenging circumstances in Sochi, the new generation of F1 drivers were able to capture the first three places on the grid for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix.
The next generation
Future world champions George Russell and Lando Norris have both been predicted. Getty Images/Dan Istitene/Formula 1/Formula 1
This is the Formula One season that never stops surprising you… as long as you like surprises. Lando Norris secured pole position for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix, two weeks after McLaren stunned the world with a one-two finish at the Italian Grand Prix.
Circumstances and bad luck for the front runners had a role in the outcome, but Norris’ lap, which beat his former colleague and current Ferrari rival Carlos Sainz to the top position, should not be overlooked.
“I don’t know what to say — it’s just an amazing feeling,” Norris remarked. “It seems like you simply qualified well, but here is a pole position that doesn’t come around very often.”
“It’s my first pole in X number of races, and it may be my last for a while.” It’s incredible, particularly under these circumstances.
“It’s difficult, and you have to take a lot of chances just to see whether it pays off, which it did. My first pole gave me an incredible sensation.”
Norris’ performance isn’t his first of the year. He seemed like a front-row contender during rain-soaked qualifying for the Belgian Grand Prix until a high-speed collision at Eau Rouge in the last session of qualifying knocked him out. Then, at Monza, he would have been the top McLaren driver if he hadn’t lost a vital place to teammate Daniel Ricciardo on the first lap of the sprint qualifying race, leaving him as the back gunner in the grand prix itself.
Given the Mercedes’ normal-conditions speed and Lewis Hamilton’s starting position only three places behind him, it may seem impossible, but Norris is eager to ride his present wave all the way to a race win on Sunday.
Norris said of his prospects in Sunday’s race, “Of course, I have the potential to try and accomplish something that I did not do in Italy.” “I’m certainly going to go for it, but you do that in any circumstance, particularly when you’re in a position like the one I’ll be in tomorrow.”
“With the Ferrari and Williams in front of me, we have a bit of a cushion [against Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes], so we have a decent opportunity.” I don’t believe my attitude has changed as a result of Monza, and I don’t believe I need to make amends.
“This is a second opportunity to try even harder.”
Both Sainz and Russell should be commended for their qualifying achievements in Russia. Sainz lost out on pole by 0.517s, although his vehicle is probably less competitive than Norris’ at this track, which favors the McLaren over the Ferrari.
Russell exceeding his vehicle is no longer surprising in Formula One, but his third-place finish in Sochi is every bit as impressive as his previous achievements this season. On Saturday, he was the first driver to switch to slick tyres, a choice made simpler by the fact that he had no fresh intermediate tyres remaining and had previously exceeded expectations in qualifying by finishing in the top ten. He still needed to hook up a lap and avoid making a mistake to get the job done, even with more temperature in his tyres than the drivers that followed suit later in Q3.
While maintaining a podium place on Sunday seems improbable, Russell should be able to earn a good number of points in Sochi, with Williams showing acceptable speed on heavy fuel during Friday practice, rather than Saturday’s errors.
—-Laurence Edmondson is a writer who lives in New York City.
Is Hamilton collapsing under the strain?
Lewis Hamilton accepted full responsibility for his Saturday qualifying performance. Pool/Getty Images/Yuri Kochetkov
When Red Bull revealed that Max Verstappen will use a new engine this weekend and start from the bottom of the grid, it should have given Hamilton an open goal to earn the most points on Sunday. However, Hamilton seemed to fall as early as the first hurdle in qualifying, and he will start fourth on the grid for a race he desperately needs to win.
While the rest of the field opted for slick tyres in Q3, Hamilton and Mercedes remained on track to record a banker lap on the intermediate tyres. It was the cautious strategy, which arguably paid off since he finished fourth rather than eleventh at the conclusion of the practice, but it placed a lot of pressure on Hamilton when it came time to switch to soft tyres.
Hamilton put more speed into the narrow pit entrance than he had so far in the practice and clipped the wall on entry as he raced back to the pits. The incident damaged his front wing, which cost the team additional time since they had to not only replace it, but also pull Hamilton out of the way to make room for teammate Valtteri Bottas, who was also switching to slicks in the same pit box.
Hamilton’s slick tyres had been out of their covers for 64 seconds by the time he returned to the track, losing performance as they cooled down in the open air. He lost even more performance while on the track when he had to make room for other cars, going off the racing line and further cooling the tyres. As a result, it’s no surprise that he couldn’t match his prior time on intermediate tyres and spun in the last sector.
It was a bad turn of events, but Hamilton insists it had nothing to do with the championship fight’s pressure.
“Honestly, it has nothing to do with pressure,” Hamilton remarked. “It wasn’t a high-pressure situation at all.”
“It’s just a matter of errors being made.” I went into the pits knowing I wouldn’t have much time, so I attacked. I was simply trying to go through the pit lane as quickly as possible since I knew I’d need all the time I could get.
“In the past, you could take it very carefully going into the pit lane; I felt the track was drying and the grip was excellent, so I came in and just took it a little faster than usual and just lost the rear end and went into the wall.”
“Of course, I was embarrassed and disgusted in myself for having it, but s—- happens.” We’re all human, and making a mistake isn’t something you’d expect a world champion to do.
“But the issue is that when you have my level of accomplishment, anything less than perfection seems like a long way off.” However, I am just human. After that, my father contacted me and we just spoke about it, and then you just go on.
“I’ll put on my racing helmet and concentrate again tomorrow, and hopefully deliver you a nice race.”
Hamilton should be able to reclaim the lead on Sunday after starting fourth on the grid and driving a Mercedes that was obviously the quickest vehicle in race conditions throughout Friday practice. That may be the real litmus test for how he handles the pressure from Verstappen.
—-Laurence Edmondson is a writer who lives in New York City.
Verstappen has a damage cap.
Max Verstappen will start from the bottom of the grid in Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix. Getty Images/Mark Thompson
Max Verstappen, the championship leader, would have been pleased with the way qualifying went in Sochi. Red Bull said yesterday that he will replace his engine, as anticipated after his collision with Lewis Hamilton at the British Grand Prix in July, and would accept the back-of-the-grid penalty that comes with it.
On Sunday, Verstappen’s goal will be to keep his nose clean in the first few corners before methodically working his way through the order. He can still aim for a good finish on Sunday with the skills and vehicle he has at his disposal.
Fernando Alonso, who qualified sixth, said he’d be shocked if Verstappen didn’t show up at some point during the race, citing Valtteri Bottas’ comeback effort at the Italian Grand Prix as an example of the top two teams’ sheer speed.
“P6, let’s see if we can maintain this place tomorrow,” Alonso added, “since we know Verstappen will come through quickly.”
“Bottas was last to start at Monza, but he finished third. In a separate race, Red Bull and Mercedes are competing.”
Nate Saunders (Nate Saunders)
AlphaTauri is filled with gaseous vapors.
Pierre Gasly, who has a history of good qualifying performances this year, was enraged after being eliminated in Q2. The French driver spent the majority of his in-lap yelling at the sidewalls of his cockpit and sending a profanity-laced radio message to his AlphaTauri crew.
He was irritated because he had been left out in the midst of the practice on old tyres. Gasly’s demeanor was reasonable, given what happened in Q3.
“I requested to box a few times, and we ended up staying out on worn tyres,” he said. “We obviously had the pace to be right there till the end of Q3, but we did a poor job today, and I’m not sure why we didn’t box.”
Gasly’s front wing was lost at the conclusion of second practice on Friday, but his speed has seemed to be quite good. Gasly will have to produce some of the magic we’ve come to anticipate over the past 18 months, with AlphaTauri earning zero points at Monza and its competitors qualifying well on Saturday afternoon.
Nate Saunders (Nate Saunders)