Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland smiles during a press conference after setting a pole position at the qualifying session for the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. The Formula One race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Bottas takes pole over Hamilton at Russian GP

September 29, 2018 - 9:58 am

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Valtteri Bottas beat championship leader Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday, setting a strategy conundrum for their Mercedes team.

Bottas was 0.145 ahead of Hamilton and 0.56 ahead of third-placed Sebastian Vettel, who is second in the standings, 40 points off Hamilton.

"It feels good, still a bit of shakes, you know. It takes some concentration," said Bottas, who had his first career win in Russia last year.

Hamilton was fastest in the first two qualifying sessions but went wide on his last fast lap and had to abandon his challenge.

"It was intense, naturally, as it always is," Hamilton said. "Just my last two laps were not special, but you can't always get it right."

Mercedes must decide if it's willing to sacrifice Bottas' hopes of a first win this season to boost Hamilton's shot at the championship. Bottas said he wanted to win but would consider the overall situation.

"My approach to the race tomorrow is definitely just trying to win the race. You can't have any other goal starting from pole, so that's going to be for sure the aim," Bottas said.

"But of course we're here as a team, we're fighting for the world championship. Also Lewis is leading the championship with a bit of a gap to Sebastian and a very big gap to me, so always need to keep those things in mind."

Hamilton leads with 281 points to 241 for Vettel in second. Bottas is fourth with 171 points.

A difficult weekend continued for Vettel, whose Ferrari team is struggling to match the pace of the Mercedes, whose new aerodynamic upgrades for Russia seem more successful than those of Ferrari.

Vettel said Ferrari "didn't have the pace" to challenge Mercedes in qualifying but hoped to snatch victory with a quick start Sunday.

"They're very quick, so we'll see. Tomorrow is a long race," Vettel said. "The car felt all right so that makes me a bit positive for Sunday."

Vettel said he told Bottas he wanted to match the Finn's achievement from last year. On that occasion, Bottas charged into the lead from third on the opening straight — past Vettel on pole — and held on to win.

"I reminded him of what happened last year so maybe we can turn it around," Vettel said. "If there's a gap, we go for it."

The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have grid penalties for Sunday's race, as do the two Toro Rossos and McLaren's Fernando Alonso.

Kimi Raikkonen qualified fourth in the second Ferrari ahead of Haas driver Kevin Magnussen, matching his season best of fifth. Esteban Ocon was sixth for Force India, followed by the Sauber of Charles Leclerc, who will be a Ferrari driver next year, and the second Force India of Sergio Perez.

Rounding out the top 10 were Romain Grosjean for Haas in ninth and Marcus Ericsson for Sauber in 10th.

Brendon Hartley's hopes of hanging on to his Toro Rosso seat took another blow as he qualified 16th, beaten by teammate Pierre Gasly for the 11th time this season.

Sergei Sirotkin is also without a confirmed spot for 2019. In front of his home crowd, the Russian beat teammate Lance Stroll but could still manage only 18th after a spin.

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