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F1: Bottas outlasts Hamilton to take Russian GP pole

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Valtteri Bottas scored a stunning pole for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix after Lewis Hamilton made a slight error on his final lap in qualifying.

Bottas had already set the fastest lap of Q3 with a time of 1:31.387, but Hamilton was behind him on the road and in position to potentially take the pole away.

However, a small error saw Hamilton break loose and run wide in Turn 7 on his final lap. Although minor, the incident was enough to cost him Hamilton the pole, though he will flank Bottas in another front row lockout for Mercedes.

The pole is the sixth of Bottas’ career and comes at the track where he took his maiden F1 victory last year.

Ferrari teammates Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen qualified third and fourth, followed by Haas F1’s Kevin Magnussen in fifth.

Force India put Esteban Ocon in sixth, while Charles Leclerc again shined with Sauber to qualify seventh, ahead of Ocon’s teammate Sergio Perez, who qualified eighth.

Romain Grosjean ended up ninth, while Marcus Ericsson made it two Saubers in Q3 and qualified tenth.

Q2 saw peculiar strategies as a result of grid penalties and tire rules. Red Bull drivers Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo will both take grid penalties as a result of new power unit elements being installed. The same can be said of the Toro Rossos of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley, as well as McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.

Verstappen, Ricciardo, and Gasly all advanced to Q2, but opted not to set a time. Regulations dictate that drivers must start the race on the tires used to set their fastest time in Q2, but if no time is set in Q2, they are free to start the race on any tire compound available that weekend.

As such, all three took advantage of that loophole and did not set times in Q2. Similarly, the Renault duo of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Nico Hulkenberg opted for the same strategy. Neither driver is facing a grid penalty, but the aforementioned ones for Verstappen, Ricciardo, and Gasly meant that the Renault drivers would start no worse than 11th and 12th respectively.

As a result, Renault also decided not to run either driver in Q2, also giving them free choice of tire compound to use at the start of Sunday’s race. This opened the door for teams like Sauber to move on to Q3.

Results are below.

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Fernando Alonso will decide this summer whether to pursue F1 again

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Fernando Alonso said he will determine by this summer if he would consider a return to Formula One next season.

After announcing Tuesday that he will return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May with Arrow McLaren Racing SP, Alonso said “right now the Indy 500 will take all of my concentration” but left the door open for F1 in 2021.

“In my case, probably during the summer period, I’ll make a decision on 2021 if Formula One is still appealing to me,” Alonso told IndyCar on NBC announcer Leigh Diffey in an interview (watch the video above). “The 2021 rules (in F1) are definitely a step forward, and hopefully things can be more mixed and not only three teams capable of winning races. So all this factors into play. I may consider that possibility.”

Alonso won consecutive Formula One championships in 2005-06 with Renault. He has 32 victories in an F1 career that started in 2001 and also includes stints at Ferrari and McLaren.

His last victory on the circuit was May 12, 2013 in Barcelona. He is winless in his most recent 110 starts, including the past 77 races with McLaren in 2015-18.

The Guardian recently reported that McLaren CEO Zak Brown said Alonso wouldn’t be returning to F1 with the team.

Alonso also told Diffey that returning to F1 from a two-season absence wouldn’t necessarily be linked to McLaren’s performance.

“I think they did well last year, and hopefully they make another step forward and close to the top three because they deserve it and are a fantastic team,” he said.

Though he is optimistic about more parity, Alonso said six-time champion Lewis Hamilton should be a favorite for the 2020 title based on preseason testing in which Mercedes turned heads with a new steering system.

“It seemed Mercedes is still quite competitive,” Alonso said. “They show enormous potential on the development side and on the progress from one year to next. Formula One is impossible to predict because many things happen in season.

“At the starting point, (Mercedes) are the favorites. When you have Lewis in the car and Mercedes with the potential they have, they have to be No. 1 probably.”