Sebastian Vettel admits he did not know just how strong Ferrari's pace would be in qualifying after taking pole position for the Russian Grand Prix.
The German snatched his first Formula One pole since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix with a dramatic last-gasp effort in Sochi, pipping teammate Kimi Raikkonen to top spot by just 0.059s as Ferrari claimed its first front-row lock-out since France 2008. Despite Ferrari topping all three practice sessions in Russia, Vettel says he was unsure whether his team's performance advantage over Mercedes would last throughout the entirety of qualifying.
"You are always eyeing for pole when you go into qualifying, but I think I was also eyeing it in the last couple of events but I had to learn harshly in Q3 that we weren't quite ready," Vettel said. "Today I don't think I ever looked at it and said 'ok we can do it'. I knew that we could do well and I knew that the car was good but I didn't know what they [Mercedes] might be able to find in the last part of qualifying. I knew we were strong, I knew we can do it, but I didn't know how strong.
"The car was phenomenal this afternoon. It was really a pleasure to take a seat and go around with low fuel, just trying to push it to the limit. If you have the rhythm here it feels fantastic so I'm happy. A big thanks to the team, it's a team effort and it's a great result for us to have both cars on the front row, but it's only part of the job. The main job is obviously tomorrow but for now it's an important step."
While 2014 Russian Grand Prix pole sitter Lewis Hamilton struggled to hook up a perfect lap and ended up 0.5s down on Vettel's time, Valtteri Bottas managed to get within 0.036 of Raikkonen as he was forced to settle for third on the grid, making it is the first time since Singapore 2015 that a Mercedes has failed to make it onto the front row with at least one of its cars.
When asked how important is it to have his Ferrari teammate alongside him for the start of Sunday's race, Vettel replied: "Well If I had to choose I would put Kimi alongside but I think for the team it's a great day today. Mercedes has been very, very dominant the last years in qualifying so it's good to get there, get closer. It was very close again with Valtteri.
"He had a problem on his last lap but his Q2 and his first Q3 laps were very, very strong and in the end the result is very close. I think it's been a mega qualifying. The car was really nice to drive and it's a track that when the track comes alive it's really pleasant."