SOCHI – Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton roared back from qualifying drama at the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday to put his Mercedes on pole position for what could be a record-equalling 91st victory.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen seized second place on the starting grid for the race in Sochi, with Hamilton’s team mate and closest title rival Valtteri Bottas having to settle for third.
Hamilton will equal Ferrari great Michael Schumacher’s all-time win record if he takes his seventh win of the season on Sunday.
The pole was the 96th of the six-times champion’s career but he ended the session under a stewards’ enquiry, along with three other drivers, for not returning to the track in the correct manner at turn two.
The champion had already recovered from drama in the second phase of qualifying when Sebastian Vettel crashed his Ferrari and brought out red flags with two minutes 15 seconds remaining on the clock.
Hamilton was 15th and had yet to set a valid lap at that point. He faced a nervous wait with barely enough time left for him to get around and make the final top-10 shootout.
The Briton managed it by the skin of his teeth and then smashed the track record in the final phase with a lap of one minute 31.304 seconds.
Verstappen pushed Bottas off the front row right at the end with a 1:31.867 effort.
“It was one of the hardest qualifying sessions that I can remember having,” said Hamilton.