Russian Grand Prix LIVE: Lando Norris on pole in Sochi as Lewis Hamilton looks to close gap on Max Verstappen

Lando Norris starts on pole for the first time in his F1 career as round 15 takes place in Sochi.

In a wet Saturday qualifying session, the 21-year-old drove the fastest lap to put his McLaren out front, with Lewis Hamilton only managing fourth and Max Verstappen starting from the very back of the grid as they battle for the championship.

Carlos Sainz in the Ferrari and Williams’ George Russell are the drivers starting immediately behind Norris, but with more rain forecast for this afternoon and a mixed-up grid order, this is an impossible race to predict.

The Sochi circuit usually isn’t the most popular on the calendar with either drivers or fans, but with the likes of Verstappen, Valtteri Bottas and Charles Leclerc starting from the rear of the field there combined with the weather, there should be far more overtaking opportunities than in previous years.

Verstappen currently leads the championship by five points, and will need to fly up the order to prevent Hamilton from overtaking him with only eight races to go. Mercedes are ahead in the constructors’ championship, leading Red Bull by 18 points.

Follow the action live from the Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix in Sochi below:

Russell continues sensational qualifying streak

George Russell has outqualified both Hamilton and Bottas twice in the past three races despite his vastly inferior machinery, ahead of his transfer to the Merc squad in time for the 2022 campaign.

The Kings Lynn-native secured second place in the wet in Belgium and mastered the damp conditions once again yesterday afternoon in Russia to start in third place today.

Norris rightly took the Saturday headlines but Russell is the real deal too, and both drivers are capable of fighting for championships in the near future.

Bottas demoted by Mercedes in tactical Verstappen plan

The reason that Bottas starts in lowly 16th is that Mercedes have made a cunning tactical move in order to try and block Verstappen’s match forward.

The Finn qualified in seventh place originally but Toto Wolff explained yesterday evening that changing engine components and accepting the resulting penalty would allow Bottas to impede Verstappen’s progress and theoretically give Hamilton a bigger advantage.

Bottas has always been Hamilton’s rear gunner in his five years with the team but this is perhaps the most flagrant strategic move he has been instructed to undertake.

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Fast cars starting from the back of the grid

Max Verstappen starts dead last this afternoon after Red Bull decided to change various engine components in the Dutchman’s car prior to the weekend, resulting in a grid penalty.

The 23-year-old currently leads the championship but will have to make significant in-roads if he is to limit the damage Lewis Hamilton is able to do to his five-point margin, with the Mercedes man starting fifth.

Charles Leclerc in the Ferrari and Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas are also starting from 18th and 16th respectively after changing engines themselves, meaning we have plenty of fast cars starting at the rear, which should mean plenty of overtaking right from the get-go. Lovely.

Norris faces big challenge into turn one and two

21-year-old Lando Norris is on pole for the first time in his Formula 1 career in Sochi this afternoon, but said afterwards that Russia is probably the worst circuit on the calendar to start from the front of the grid.

The run through turn one and down to the heavy braking zone of turn two is so long that pole-sitters here often struggle to maintain the lead because of the slipstream effect that drivers behind are able to take advantage of.

With former McLaren team-mate and Ferrari man Carlos Sainz starting alongside him on the front, Norris will need a lightening start to hold onto first place.

Russian Grand Prix live – all the action and updates from F1 in Sochi

Welcome to the Independent’s coverage of the Russian Grand Prix, round 15 of the 2021 season as Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton will look to make the most of an opportunity to catch the drivers’ championship standings leader Max Verstappen. He starts at the back of the grid after being handed a place penalty, while four-time Sochi winner Hamilton will be in fourth from the start. Lando Norris secured pole position for the first time in his career in qualifying, while last year it was Valtteri Bottas who emerged triumphant – he’s on row four to start on Sunday.

Five points separate Hamilton and Verstappen ahead of the race, with the Red Bull driver saying he was “very relaxed” ahead of Sunday’s event, in contrast to all the heated emotions and comments last time out as the pair crashed out in Monza. Follow all the updates and live action from Sochi right here, with lights out at 1pm BST.

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