Nico Rosberg edges Lewis Hamilton in Russian Grand Prix qualifying

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Nico Rosberg will start from pole position for Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix after edging out Lewis Hamilton in qualifying.

The German, who is 48 points adrift of the Briton in the championship race, posted a best lap of one minute and 37.113 seconds to finish comfortably ahead of his Mercedes team-mate.

Williams driver Valtteri Bottas will start from third, with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel fourth on the grid.

Carlos Sainz was absent from qualifying after his harrowing 200mph shunt in final practice. The Spaniard, who was airlifted to a nearby hospital, is however hopeful of returning to action in Sochi on Sunday.

Heading into the final five rounds of the championship, Rosberg had vowed not to give up his unlikely pursuit of preventing Hamilton from clinching consecutive titles.

And his second straight pole – only his third of the season – will give the German hope he can begin his fightback with victory here on Sunday.

Hamilton, who made a mistake on his final run, was out of his Mercedes cockpit before the session ended, and is likely to be alarmed by the three-tenth gap to his team-mate.

The Briton, who finished each of the three qualifying sessions behind Rosberg said: “I made a mistake at turn 13. It has been a difficult weekend for everyone and Nico did a great job on his lap and I was not quite happy with the balance I had.”

Rosberg started on pole last time out in Japan but was out-muscled by his team-mate through turns one and two.

He said: “I am very happy. It has been a difficult weekend because of the little running that we got, but qualifying worked out really well and we got a good balance on the car.”

Mercedes are set to seal back-to-back team championships on Sunday. They need to outscore Ferrari by three points. Vettel is fourth on the grid with his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in fifth.

Jenson Button, who has confirmed he will race on for McLaren in 2016, sealed his second-best qualifying result of what has been a miserable year for the Briton.

The 2009 world champion will start from 13th, but his team-mate Fernando Alonso will take little satisfaction from qualifying after he was knocked out at the first stage. That, coupled with a 35-place grid penalty following yet another engine change, will see the Spaniard drop to the back of the pack.

Whether he will be joined by his countryman Sainz remains to be seen. The Toro Rosso driver is keen to race, but he will be kept in hospital overnight and a decision on his participation is likely to be taken on Sunday morning.

Russian driver Daniil Kvyat would have been keen to impress in front of his home fans, but he failed to make it out of the second phase of qualifying. He will start 11th on Sunday.

Elsewhere, Nico Hulkenberg was sixth, with his Force India team-mate Sergio Perez in seventh. Romain Grosjean was eighth for Lotus, Sainz’s Toro Rosso team-mate Max Verstappen ninth and the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo 10th.

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