Lewis Hamilton has bagged pole position for the inaugural Russian Grand Prix around Sochi's Olympic Park, ahead of an expected visit by President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian leader is set to be at the Sochi Autodrom tomorrow for the Formula One race circling the indoor venues used during the Olympic and Paralympic Games earlier this year.
His presence will add to murmurings that the sport should have abandoned its Russian race amid the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and the downing of flight MH17, which was reportedly hit by a missile in July.
F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone told The Times earlier this week: "The sanctions [imposed on Russia by Europe and the United States] do not affect us and what we are doing is not illegal.
"The Russian people asked us to come here and that is what we are doing.
"We are putting on a grand prix.
"This is nothing to do with politics.
"As I have always said, we do not do politics.
"We are in Sochi to race."
On the track it was Mercedes' Hamilton, who leads the Drivers' Championship by 10 points, who secured pole.
The Briton was two tenths ahead of his German team mate and Championship rival Nico Rosberg, with the Williams of Valtteri Bottas in third.
Finn Bottas had looked on target for pole late on in the session, only to slide through the final two corners and lose all his speed.
The winner of tomorrow's race will be presented with a trophy carrying a silver crystal in its centre, which serves as "a reminder of the blaze of a race car's engine".
Its black-red colouring "reflects the high speed and intensity that is required to claim victory on the circuit", and snow-covered mountaintops are also reflected in the trophy's design.
It took one month to manufacture the trophy, organisers say, with four to be handed out on Sunday to the top three drivers and the winning constructor.
The Russian Grand Prix is the 16th round of the 19-race Championship, which is due to end in Abu Dhabi on November 23.
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