Pivotal race for Force India at Hockenheim in Constructor’s battle

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It’s not that Force India has been bad the last several races – Nico Hulkenberg’s points-scoring run in every Grand Prix through Silverstone continued and Sergio Perez has had his moments, as well – but the early-season pace the team showed has dipped slightly the last few events.

At Hockenheim, however, the team is bullish on its prospects. The car handles a bit better on the supersoft and soft tires, and Hulkenberg said that should play to the team’s advantage at this weekend’s German Grand Prix.

“Even on tracks where we have been struggling slightly, we have managed to score points – for example, in Silverstone the car balance was not ideal, but we still came away with four points,” Hulkenberg said in the team’s advance release. “I’m feeling more positive about our performance in Germany, especially with the return of the soft and supersoft tires.”

Added Perez, “Hockenheim should suit our car and we should be in a much stronger position. It looks like a track where we can perform well. With the softer tyres and warm temperatures it’s going to be an interesting race.”

Team principal Vijay Mallya said this is a pivotal race for Force India in terms of the Constructor’s Championship. Williams’ 45 points in the last two races have taken it past the fellow Mercedes-powered squad for fourth in the Constructor’s Championship.

Force India is now fifth on 91, and just one point ahead of McLaren on 90. Ferrari on 106 and Williams on 103 are over the century mark in the battle for third.

“Hockenheim is a medium-speed circuit and we have done well on these sorts of tracks this year. It’s also Nico’s home race so I am sure he will have some extra motivation to do well,” Mallya said. “We have scored points in every race, but we need to score with both cars if we want to maintain our position in the championship. It’s expected to be one of the hotter races of the year and that usually works in our favor.”

Hulkenberg finished ninth for Force India at Hockenheim two years ago from fifth on the grid, while Perez took his Sauber from 12th on the grid up to sixth.

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.