Mercedes ace knuckles down with engineers as he starts 4th on the grid — after even team-mate Valtteri Bottas beat him
LEWIS HAMILTON was left scratching his head in Sochi after his worst qualifying display for two seasons.
The Mercedes driver will start today’s Russian Grand Prix FOURTH on the grid.
Hamilton, 32, was outclassed by Ferrari duo Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen — and even upstaged by team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who qualified third.
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This was his worst qualifying performance in Formula One — ignoring grid penalties and mechanical breakdowns — since starting fifth at the Singapore GP in September 2015.
Last night, Hamilton was knuckling down with his engineers to identify just why he was so off the pace.
The three-time world champ said: “I was not quick enough. I have to go back to the drawing board to figure out why but Sunday is another day.
“It is all still to play for but at least I am up there in the mix. It was all in the last sector, I lost half a second. That is where all the mistakes have happened.
“Ferrari are quickest in qualifying and generally in race trim, so it will be interesting to see where we stand but my goal is to get forwards.
“But my long-run pace on Friday was pretty poor, so I am hoping it gets better.”
Vettel, 29, could not hide his delight at a 47th career pole.
He said: “When I got the message I got it, I was over the moon.
“We have had a good start to the season. We are now in front, which is a great achievement. We are very happy we are back.”
Vettel starts at the front with Raikkonen in second as Ferrari grabbed their first one-two since the French GP in 2008.
Worry was written all over the Mercedes bosses’ faces as the Italian team finally cracked Saturday qualifying.
Hamilton’s fellow Brit Jolyon Palmer also had another miserable afternoon in his Renault after crashing out.
The 26-year-old, who is coming under pressure after a poor start to the season, knows he needs to start delivering on the track.
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But he had another shocker here in Q1, clipping the kerb and spinning off and damaging his car in the process to qualify down in 16th place.
McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne was also eliminated at the first hurdle after he struggled for speed.
The Belgian, 25, was already destined to start at the back after taking a 15-place grid penalty for using up his engine allocation.
He said: “We knew before qualifying we would start at the back of the grid, so we have to try and get the most out of the race, even though it will be difficult to overtake.
“Every weekend we are learning more. We expected another difficult weekend and we expected this result.”