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Verstappen surprises himself with front row seat at Sochi

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Sochi (Russia) (AFP)

A delighted Max Verstsappen admitted he was surprised with his own performance on Saturday after he secured second place on the grid for Sunday's Russian Grand Prix.

The Dutch driver said he had not expected to improve his time in his Red Bull car sufficiently to grab a front row ticket alongside Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes.

“In Q3, especially in the final run, it was not bad!” he said. “To be second on the grid? I did not expect that so I am very, very pleased…. We were struggling so much to find the right balance with the car at this track.

"It’s so slippery round here and even in the morning, I was not happy. In qualifying, we were really working on trying to nail the problem and nail the balance. Somehow, it all worked."

Verstappen added that he felt he has a good chance to attack six-time champion Hamilton at the start and to take advantage of his different tyre strategy.

“If we can have a decent start, the tow effect is very big around here,” he said. “If we can get a good draft, who knows what is going to happen into Turn Two?

“It’s going to be interesting anyway – and with the tyres too."

After a chaotic qualifying, Hamilton qualified on pole and will start on soft compound tyres – while his team-mate Valtteri Bottas will start from third on mediums.

Verstappen, from second, will also start on mediums, giving him a chance to operate a different strategy using a longer first stint.

Bottas, 55 points adrift in the championship standings, is hoping to draw inspiration from his 2017 Sochi win from the second row to keep alive his title hopes.

"I remember once before I started third here and I know what happened then so, for sure, I will try to do the same again," he said referring to his maiden Formula One triumph at Sochi’s Olympic Park circuit.

"I really think I have an advantage with the medium tyres in the first stint, so it’s still all to play for."

As for Hamilton, he escaped any sanction for cutting a corner in qualifying, the Sochi stewards saying he had gained no advantage as his lap time had been deleted.

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