- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Formula One championship leader Lewis Hamilton, bidding for his fourth consecutive race victory, will start from pole position at the inaugural Russian Grand Prix.

Hamilton earned his seventh pole of the season by beating Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg by two-tenths of a second in Saturday’s qualifying.

Williams driver Valtteri Bottas was faster than Hamilton for two sectors in his last lap but then went wide in the last corner and stayed third.

Hamilton leads Rosberg by 10 points and is seeking his ninth victory of the season. He has won the last three races - in Japan, Singapore and Italy - and Mercedes can wrap up its first constructors title if one of its drivers wins Sunday’s race.

“Pole is a great place to start from,” said Hamilton, who is seeking his second championship after winning the title in 2008. This was his 38th career pole.

Hamilton is clearly a fan of this Black Sea resort and the Sochi Autodrom around the Olympic Park, where the Winter Olympics were held in February.

“This is really a beautiful place and the weather has been amazing,” the British driver said. “I really enjoy driving here. The surroundings, the mountains, it’s quite an incredible place.”

“But it will be tough tomorrow, it’s a long way to turn 1,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said he had no idea how important it was to start on pole on the circuit, since it has never been used for a Grand Prix before.

The sunny and warm weather was in contrast to last weekend’s race in Suzuka, Japan, held in heavy rain and fading light. Hamilton’s victory there was overshadowed by the accident that left Marussia driver Jules Bianchi fighting for his life in a hospital. Bianchi lost control in wet conditions and ploughed into a tractor recovering another car that crashed out at the same spot one lap earlier and suffered a severe head injury.

The Marussia car is racing only one car this weekend in a sign of respect for Bianchi and drivers have stickers on their helmets expressing support for the French diver.

Hamilton and other drivers praised the smooth surface of the Sochi Autodrom, saying there was good grip while almost no tire wear.

“It’s a fast flowing, medium to fast circuit and it should make for an interesting race,” Hamilton said.

With 125 points at stake in the remaining four Grand Prix of the season - including 50 at season-ending Abu Dhabi - Rosberg said every race was important.

“Lewis was quicker all weekend and I have to accept it, but front row is still good,” Rosberg said. “The track is so smooth on tires, it’s completely different from anything else we’ve had.”

Bottas said he did not know how close he was to the pole.

“Maybe I took it a little too hard on the tires at the start of the lap. I risked too much in the last corner and went wide,” Bottas said.

“It’s not nice to make a mistake but Mercedes have been very fast in the last sector all weekend and maybe I lost one place,” the Finn said.

Four-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel failed to make the third and final qualifying session in his Red Bull but because Kevin Magnusson of McLaren will be dropped five places for an unscheduled gearbox change, Vettel will move to 10th. Magnusson falls from sixth to 11th, allowing Daniel Ricciardo in the other Red Bull to move up one place to sixth.

Jenson Button of McLaren will start fourth and Daniil Kvyat delighted home fans by taking fifth place for Toro Rosso in his best qualifying result.



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