Rosberg in pole position

Nico Rosberg, trailing Lewis Hamilton by 48 points in the World Championship, claimed pole by three tenths of a second with a time of 1 min 37.113s. It was the German’s third pole of the season and the 18th of his career.

Mercedes driver Nico Rosberg (centre) celebrates after winning the pole position. He is flanked by team-mate Lewis Hamilton (right), who qualified in second position, and Valtteri Bottas of Williams, who posted the third fastest time in the qualifiers for the Russian Grand Prix.   -  AP

Marshalls clear the wreckage of Carlos Sainz's car that suffered extensive damages following a high-speed crash during the final free practice on Saturday at the Sochi Autodrom. The Toro Rosso driver, who veered out of control at more than 300 kmph on Turn 13, escaped injury..   -  Getty Images

Nico Rosberg out-qualified his Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton to win the pole position for the Russian Grand Prix in Sochi on Saturday.

Rosberg, trailing Hamilton by 48 points in the World Championship, claimed pole by three tenths of a second with a time of 1 min 37.113 sec. It was the German’s third pole of the season and the 18th of his career and came after a dramatic morning when Carlos Sainz of Toro Rosso escaped injury after crashing heavily at Turn 13. The Spaniard careered out of control at more than 300 kmph.

“I’m very happy, it’s been a difficult weekend without much practice but qualifying worked out well,” said Rosberg.

Hamilton, who ran off the track in a vain final bid to improve his time and grab his 50th career pole, reflected: “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 India cars of German 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.

After another curtailed practice session during the morning, when Sainz survived his high-speed crash, qualifying began with the two Mercedes, 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 Grand Prix by winding up in 16th place in his McLaren.

Out with him went Marcus Ericsson of Sauber and the two Manor Marussia drivers, 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 1:37.672, 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-10 shoot-out, finishing down in 15th.

Qualifying times:

Qualifying N.3: 1. Nico Rosberg (Mercedes) 1:37.113s; 2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:37.433; 3. Valtteri Bottas (Williams) 1:37.912; 4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 1:37.965; 5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 1:38.348; 6. Nico Hulkenberg (Force India) 1:38.659; 7. Sergio Perez (Force India) 1:38.691; 8. Romain Grosjean (Lotus) 1:38.787; 9. Max Verstappen (Toro Rosso) 1:38.924; 10. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 1:39.728.

Qualifying N.2: 1. Nico Rosberg (1:37.500 – Q); 2. Lewis Hamilton (1:37.672 – Q); 3. Valtteri Bottas (1:38.194 – Q); 4. Kimi Raikkonen (1:38.224 – Q); 5. Sebastian Vettel (1:38.402 – Q); 6. Nico Hulkenberg (1:38.727 – Q); 7. Romain Grosjean (1:38.754 – Q); 8. Sergio Perez (1:38.914 – Q); 9. Daniel Ricciardo (1:39.005 – Q); 10. Max Verstappen (1:39.119 – Q); 11. Daniil Kvyat (Red Bull) 1:39.214; 12. Felipe Nasr (Sauber) 1:39.323; 13. Jenson Button (McLaren) 1:39.763; 14. Pastor Maldonado (Lotus) 1:39.811; 15. Felipe Massa (Williams) 1:39.895.

Qualifying N.1: 1. Nico Rosberg (1:38.343 – Q); 2. Valtteri Bottas (1:38.448 – Q); 3. Lewis Hamilton (1:38.558 – Q); 4. Sebastian Vettel (1:38.598 – Q); 5. Felipe Massa (1:38.926 – Q); 6. Romain Grosjean (1:39.056 – Q); 7. Kimi Raikkonen (1:39.207 – Q); 8. Nico Hulkenberg (1:39.250 – Q); 9. Max Verstappen (1:39.411 – Q); 10. Daniel Ricciardo (1:39.574 – Q); 11. Daniil Kvyat (1:39.580 – Q); 12. Sergio Perez (1:39.617 – Q); 13. Pastor Maldonado (1:39.724 – Q); 14. Jenson Button (1:39.739 – Q); 15. Felipe Nasr (1:40.042 – Q); 16. Fernando Alonso (1:40.144 – Q); 17. Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) 1:40.660; 18. Will Stevens (Marussia) 1:43.693; 19. Roberto Merhi (Marussia) 1:43.804; 20. Carlos Sainz Jr. (Toro Rosso).

Grid positions – 1st row: Nico Rosberg & Lewis Hamilton; 2nd row: Valtteri Bottas & Sebastian Vettel; 3rd row: Kimi Raikkonen & Nico Hulkenberg; 4th row: Sergio Perez & Romain Grosjean; 5th row: Max Verstappen & Daniel Ricciardo; 6th row: Daniil Kvyat & Felipe Nasr; 7th row: Jenson Button & Pastor Maldonado; 8th row: Felipe Massa & Marcus Ericsson; 9th row: Will Stevens & Roberto Merhi; 10th row: Fernando Alonso.