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Nico Rosberg seized pole position for the Russian Formula One Grand Prix with world champion Lewis Hamilton joining team mate on the front row in a perfect qualifying for Mercedes.
The pole was Rosberg’s third of the season with championship leader Hamilton, who is 48 points clear of the German with five races remaining, denied his 50th for the third race in succession.
Hamilton, who had hoped for his 12th pole in 15 races, aborted his second and final lap of the final phase after making a mistake on a clear afternoon in the Olympic Park.
1. L Hamilton – 277
2. N Rosberg – 229
3. S Vettel – 218
4. K Raikkonen – 119
5. V Bottas – 111
6. F Massa – 97
7. D Ricciardo – 73
8. D Kvyat – 66
9. R Grosjean – 44
10. S Perez – 39
The front row lockout was still just what Mercedes had ordered, with the team needing to score three points more than Ferrari to clinch their second successive constructors’ title this weekend.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas qualified third for Mercedes-powered Williams with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen fourth and fifth.
Hamilton won last year’s inaugural race in Russia from pole, with Rosberg runner-up after also starting on the front row, but he could not get close to Rosberg’s time of one minute 37.113 seconds.
“We didn’t get much practice but qualifying worked out really well and a good balance on the car,” said the German after his second pole in a row.
“We had to guess a little bit…it all worked out well, I felt comfortable. Of course the constructors’ championship is a really important target for us this weekend, it would be amazing to clinch it for a second time so early on in the season, and so we are out to do that.
“At the same time of course I’m out here to reduce the gap to Lewis in terms of points.”
Sainz in hospital
Saturday’s final practice was halted after just 35 minutes when Toro Rosso’s Spaniard Carlos Sainz, who remained in hospital during qualifying and is doubtful for the race despite escaping serious injury, crashed heavily.
Friday’s two sessions, on a track that skirts around the 2014 Winter Olympic venues, were also limited due to a diesel spillage in the morning and rain through the afternoon.
Rosberg got alongside Hamilton at the start last year but made a mistake that sent him back to 20th place.
The German then did 52 laps on one set of tyres and fought back to finish second.
Qualifying result (top-10):
1. Nico Rosberg (Germany) Mercedes
2. Lewis Hamilton (Britain) Mercedes
3. Valtteri Bottas (Finland) Williams-Mercedes
4. Sebastian Vettel (Germany) Ferrari
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Finland) Ferrari
6. Nico Huelkenberg (Germany) Force India – Mercedes
7. Sergio Perez (Mexico) Force India – Mercedes
8. Romain Grosjean (France) Lotus – Mercedes
9. Max Verstappen (Netherlands) Toro Rosso – Renault
10. Daniel Ricciardo (Australia) RedBull – Renault