Marussia to leave driver decision until off-season

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Marussia sporting director Graeme Lowdon has said that the team will wait until the end of the Formula 1 season before making a decision about its driver line-up for 2015.

The team has enjoyed its best-ever season in 2014, scoring its first points in F1 at the Monaco Grand Prix thanks to Jules Bianchi’s ninth-place finish. It has also pulled clear of nearest-rival Caterham in the battle of the backmarkers, and is even ahead of Sauber in the constructors’ championship.

Both Bianchi and teammate Max Chilton have put in some good performances this season, but Lowdon told crash.net that no decision about the driver line-up for 2015 would be taken until the off-season.

“As ever, there’s 101 different influences on teams and driver preferences and the same with the drivers as well,” Lowdon said.

“So in terms of the line-up for next year we typically leave that until December time and see where we get to and focus entirely on trying to keep our place in the championship for the rest of this season.”

Chilton’s place at Marussia appears to be secure so long as the necessary funding is in place, but Bianchi’s future is a little harder to predict. As a Ferrari Driver Academy member, he is a highly talented and valuable asset to Marussia, although the Italian marque may have loftier hopes for the Frenchman.

As I looked at earlier this month, Bianchi’s journey to Maranello is going very well, and could even see him get a surprise promotion to a full-time seat if both Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen were to leave for 2015.

It seems that the most likely outcome is that both Chilton and Bianchi get a third season with Marussia in 2015, but we’ll have to wait until the end of the year to find out.

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.