SECOND POLE IN A ROW: Mercedes' Nico Rosberg managed to grab pole at the Russian GP ahead of team mate Lewis Hamilton. Image: AFP / Philippe Lopez
SOCHI, Russia - Nico Rosberg out-qualified his Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to claim pole for the Russian Grand Prix at Sochi on Saturday.
Rosberg, trailing Hamilton by 48 points in the world championship, claimed his third pole of the season by three tenths of a second with a time of 1min37.113
Third pole of 2015
It was Rosberg's third pole of the season and the 18th of his career and came after a dramatic morning during which Spaniard Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso escaped injury when crashed heavily at Turn 13 after careering out of control at more than 300km/h.
Read: As it happened: 2015 Russian GP - Qualifying
"I'm very happy, it's been a difficult weekend without much practice but qualifying worked out well," said Rosberg.
Hamilton, who ran off track in a vain final bid to improve his time and grab his 50th career pole, said: "It's been a difficult weekend but Nico did a great job, overall I'm happy."
Four-time former champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari was fourth ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen and the two Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Mexican Sergio Perez.
Romain Grosjean was eighth for Lotus ahead of Dutch teenager Max Verstappen in his Toro Rosso and Australian Daniel Ricciardo who was 10th for Red Bull.
Sainz survived major crash
After another curtailed practice session during the Saturday morning, when Sainz survived his high-speed crash at Turn 13, qualifying began with the two Mercedes men, led by Rosberg, leading the way in welcome dry conditions. Both ran on the harder of the two available tyre compounds.
In the absence of Sainz, only four cars faced the early cut after Q1 and, after a late decision to join the fray, they were led by Fernando Alonso who marked his 250th GP by winding up in 16th place in his McLaren.
Out with him went Marcus Ericsson of Sauber and the two Manor Marussia men Will Stevens and Roberto Merhi.
It mattered little for Alonso, of course, as he faced a 25-place grid penalty after being fitted with a new Honda engine.
In Q2, Hamilton demonstrated finally that he had learned the circuit by clocking a lap in 1minute37.672, faster than his team-mate by six-tenths of a second before Rosberg responded to go quicker still by 0.172 seconds.
A late effort from Ricciardo lifted him from 13th to eighth while Felipe Massa flopped in his Williams and failed to make the cut into the top-ten shoot-out finishing down in 15th.
Massa said: "I had traffic on the first lap, then I lost the tyres completely at the rear on my final lap."
Out with him went local hero Daniil Kvyat in his Red Bull who was 11th followed by Felipe Nasr in the second Sauber, Jenson Button in the second McLaren and Pastor Maldonado in his Lotus.
Button said: "I just couldn't get the fronts working."
As Q3 began, Sainz was busy in hospital where he was photographed organising a television to allow him to watch the qualifying session and trying to persuade his medical staff to allow him out to race on Sunday (October 11).
Sainz tweeted: "All ok!.. Nothing to worry about!", already thinking about how to convince doctors to let me run tomorrow..."
On their initial runs, Rosberg set the pace with a lap in one minute and 37.113 seconds, three-tenths quicker than Hamilton, with Bottas third ahead of Vettel.
For the two Mercedes men, it was a signal for a final battle, but neither could improve in the cooling conditions
Russian GP qualifying classification
1. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes 1min37.113
2. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes 1min37.433
3. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams-Mercedes 1min37.912
4. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari 1min37.965
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari 1min38.348
6. Nico Hulkenberg (Germany) Force India - Mercedes 1min38.659
7. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India - Mercedes 1min38.691
8. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus - Mercedes 1min38.787
9. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Toro Rosso - Renault 1min38.924
10. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) Red Bull - Renault 1min39.728
11. Daniil Kvyat (Russia) Red Bull - Renault 1min39.214
12. Felipe Nasr (Brazil) Sauber - Ferrari 1min39.323
13. Jenson Button (Britain) McLaren 1min39.763
14. Pastor Maldonado (Venezuela) Lotus - Mercedes 1min39.811
15. Felipe Massa (Brazil) Williams-Mercedes 1min39.895
16. Fernando Alonso (Spain) McLaren 1min40.144
17. Marcus Ericsson (Sweden) Sauber - Ferrari 1min40.660
18. Will Stevens (Britain) Marussia - Ferrari 1min43.693
19. Roberto Merhi (Spain) Marussia - Ferrari 1min43.804
Carlos Sainz Jr (Spain) Toro Rosso - Renault DNS