Bottas to outshine Hamilton but Ferrari hard to beat
Scuderia in good shape to capitalise on front-row start
Russian Grand Prix
Channel 4 & Sky Sports F1, 1pm
S Vettel & V Bottas combination podium Evs
The battle between Ferrari and Mercedes has been the story of the young Formula One season, and the fight reached a new intensity in Russian Grand Prix qualifying.
Championship leader Sebastian Vettel snatched his first pole position in over a year, denying Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen by 0.059 seconds.
It will be the first time the Italian team's cars have both started on the front row since 2008 and brings to an end a run of 18 straight Mercedes pole positions.
Chinese Grand Prix winner Lewis Hamilton had to settle for fourth having been outqualified by his new teammate Valtteri Bottas for the second race in a row.
Ferrari had looked to have a clear edge throughout practice, and the question was whether Mercedes were disguising their true pace.
That question appeared to be answered in Q2 when Bottas fired in a lap some eight-tenths quicker than any other achieved in the weekend.
However, in the session that mattered Ferrari pulled out a little bit more. Raikkonen, who was given a talking to by team management after his indifferent early-season form, looked set to roll back the years and score his first pole for nine years.
A mistake on his final attempt proved costly, though.
In the first three races of the season, Ferrari's pace during races has been significantly stronger than in qualifying, so it's no surprise Vettel has been chalked up as a clear favourite.
Raikkonen has yet to record a podium this year, but it will be a huge disappointment if he can't remedy that in Russia.
Hamilton is preferred in the betting to Bottas, but that looks unfair to the Finn. He was unable to show his true pace after taking pole position in Bahrain last time, as a generator problem led to him racing with too-high tyre pressures.
Bottas usually goes well at Sochi, and has been faster than Hamilton in every session this weekend. Back him to join Vettel on the podium.
Force India double points finish 11-8
Force India are making a bold bid to retain their unofficial 'best of the rest' title behind Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull.
The consistency shown by drivers Sergio Perez and new recruit Esteban Ocon has been instrumental in that. They are the only team beyond Ferrari and Mercedes to have brought both drivers home in the top ten in all three races this season, and it's well worth betting they continue that run.
The Silverstone team have looked good in Sochi, with both drivers reaching the top-ten shootout in qualifying for the first time this season.
In Bahrain last time, Perez started 18th after problems in qualifying, but used patience and smart strategy to finish seventh, while Ocon has finished tenth in all his three races for the team.
Confidence is further increased by the fact that Toro Rosso, who have been battling Force India for the lower pointscoring places, look off the pace this weekend.
Vettel & Bottas combination podium (both to finish in first three)
2pts Evs bet365
Force India double points finish
2pts 11-8 Sky Bet