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Sunday October 24, 2021

McLaren’s Norris takes ‘manic’ maiden pole

AFP
September 26, 2021

SOCHI, Russia: McLaren’s Lando Norris took his maiden Formula One pole in a shock outcome to Saturday’s qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix.

Norris is joined on the front row by the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz with Lewis Hamilton starting on the second row in his latest attempt at reaching 100 wins.

Hamilton was looking good for pole after topping the timesheets in Q1 and Q2, but he then suffered late drama with three minutes left of Q3 when he hit the pit wall requiring a hastily fitted new front wing to his damaged Mercedes.

A spin on his re-emergence out onto the circuit on slick tyres left the door open for 21-year-old Norris to steal the show at Sochi with a flying last lap of 1min 41.993sec.

“Oh boy. It feels amazing. Manic session,” Norris beamed.

“We made the decision to go slicks, you never think you will get pole until you get it,” he added.

The refreshingly different complexion of the top of the grid was completed by George Russell of Williams.

He posted the third quickest time to start alongside seven-time world champion Hamilton, his teammate when he relaces Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes next season.

“It is crazy. Second time in the top three in three or four events, the team have done an amazing job,” said the 22-year-old referring to a brilliant qualifying session at Spa to gain his first podium in the rain-ruined Belgian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen, who leads Hamilton by five points ahead of this 15th round of the season, starts from the back of the grid due to an engine change penalty on his Red Bull.

“As I will be starting from the back of the grid anyway, we decided to take no risks and to skip quali,” the Dutch driver tweeted.

“Quite an interesting quali result! It’s full focus on the race, in which I’ll try to fight my way forward and hopefully have some fun.”

Hamilton meanwhile will be counting on exploiting Verstappen’s penalty to the fullest at the circuit on the shores of the Black Sea where he has already won four times with Mercedes undefeated since it first appeared on the calendar in 2014.

Stuck on 99 since Silverstone on July 18 the Mercedes world champion will hope his car’s race pace will see him finally become F1’s first century man.

Qualifying got underway as scheduled after a dramatic improvement in conditions following torrential rain which washed out the morning’s third and final practice. The deluge left the circuit in the Olympic Park under water.