Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas of Finland smiles during a press conference after setting a pole position at the qualifying session for the Russian Formula One Grand Prix at the Sochi Autodrom circuit in Sochi, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. The Formula One race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Bottas takes pole over Hamilton at Russian GP

September 29, 2018 - 10:03 am

SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Valtteri Bottas beat his Mercedes teammate and championship leader Lewis Hamilton to pole position for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday, stirring up the title race.

Bottas was 0.145 ahead of Hamilton and 0.56 ahead of third-placed Sebastian Vettel, who is second in the standings, 40 points off Hamilton.

"It feels good, still a bit of shakes, you know. It takes some concentration," said Bottas, who earned his first career win in Russia last year.

Hamilton was fastest in the first two qualifying sessions but went wide on his last fast lap and had to abandon his challenge.

"It was intense, naturally, as it always is," Hamilton said. "Just my last two laps were not special, but you can't always get it right."

A difficult weekend continued for Vettel, whose Ferrari team is struggling to match the pace of the Mercedes, which brought new upgrades to Russia.

Vettel said Ferrari "didn't have the pace" to challenge Mercedes in qualifying but hoped to snatch victory with a quick start Sunday.

"They're very quick, so we'll see. Tomorrow is a long race," Vettel said. "The car felt all right so that makes me a bit positive for Sunday."

Vettel said he told Bottas he wanted to match the Finn's achievement from last year. On that occasion, Bottas charged into the lead from third on the opening straight — past Vettel on pole — and held on to win.

"I reminded him of what happened last year so maybe we can turn it around," Vettel said. "If there's a gap, we go for it."

The Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen have grid penalties for Sunday's race, as do the two Toro Rossos and McLaren's Fernando Alonso.

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