Rosberg and Mercedes finish testing on top

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After his teammate Lewis Hamilton managed to set the timesheets alight yesterday in Barcelona, Nico Rosberg went even quicker to bring pre-season testing to a close in the best possible fashion.

The German driver finished three tenths clear of Fernando Alonso at the top, which will predictably lead many to label Mercedes favorites for when Formula One 2013 gets underway in two weeks’ time.

Rosberg and Alonso battled for much of the morning in pursuit of the quickest time. The Ferrari driver’s spell at the top lasted just two minutes until Rosberg smashed Alonso’s time, as well as that of Hamilton from the day before.

Jenson Button impressed to finish third, but the one second gap to Alonso in P2 will be cause for concern at McLaren. Sauber picked the best possible time to find form, with Nico Hulkenburg finishing fourth, just one tenth behind Button. Despite a late run, Raikkonen could only finish fifth, 0.006 seconds ahead of Force India’s Paul di Resta.

Williams failed to repeat their good Saturday form, with Maldonado and Bottas finishing seventh and ninth respectively. World champion Sebastian Vettel ended up a disappointing eighth, and after Mark Webber’s poor showing yesterday, Red Bull appear to have a lot of work to do prior to the Australian Grand Prix.

Caterham finally edged out Marussia as Charles Pic finished less than half a tenth ahead of Jules Bianchi. Daniel Ricciardo ended up a disappointing twelfth as Toro Rosso’s early testing form continues to dwindle, but he did finish ahead of Marussia’s Max Chilton. The British driver will undoubtedly be alarmed by the 0.9 second gap between himself and teammate Bianchi.

The session today marked the end of winter testing in 2013, meaning that the next chance for development comes in Friday practice for the Australian Grand Prix. Mercedes may maintain that they are not in a position to claim race wins, yet their pace is impressive enough to suggest the contrary. Regardless, all will be revealed when Formula One returns in two weeks’ time.

Unofficial Times

1. Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:20.130
2. Fernando Alonso Ferrari 1:20.494 +0.364
3. Jenson Button McLaren 1:21.444 +1.314
4. Nico Hulkenburg Sauber 1:21.541 +1.411
5. Kimi Raikkonen Lotus 1:21.658 +1.528
6. Paul di Resta Force India 1:21.664 +1.534
7. Pastor Maldonado Williams 1:22.415 +2.285
8. Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 1:22.514 +2.384
9. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:22.524 +2.394
10. Charles Pic Caterham 1:23.115 +2.985
11. Jules Bianchi Marussia 1:23.167 +3.037
12. Daniel Ricciardo Toro Rosso 1:23.628 +3.498
13. Max Chilton Marussia 1:24.103 +3.973

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.