Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari ended a run of 18 in a row for once-dominant world champions Mercedes, who had Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton right behind the two red cars in third and fourth places.
Following the qualifying session Hamilton says that, balance troubles in the final sector as he end up with fourth during qualifying for the Russian GP.
Bottas was fastest in the first two phases of qualifying, with the choice of tyres coming into play, and those who had suspected the champions were hiding their pace in practice appeared to be justified.
But that too was a false dawn, with glum looks and shaking heads in the Mercedes garage as the reality of the situation emerged.
“I just wasn’t quick enough today, it was all in the last sector… so there’s some work to do,” said Hamilton, who had racked up six poles in a row before Bottas took his career first in Bahrain two weeks ago.
“Ferrari are quickest in qualifying and generally in race trim, so it will be interesting to see where we stand tomorrow,” added the Briton.
Four-times world champion Vettel, has won two of the first three races and leads triple champion Hamilton by seven points in the championship.
Bottas, who out qualified team mate Hamilton – “I think we can clearly see from result, Ferrari was quicker today, we were close in the end, but not quite close enough.
“All weekend they’ve had the upper hand and they’ve been able to extract a lot more from ultra-soft tyres.
“We’ve made improvements for today but not quite enough. We’re on the second row and as always, tomorrow is the day that counts.”