After qualifying third for a race he desperately needs to win, Sebastian Vettel admitted he was not expecting to have such a big gap to Mercedes on the front row at the Russian Grand Prix.

Vettel qualified 0.556s off Valtteri Bottas on pole position and was 0.411s off his title rival Lewis Hamilton in second. The long run down to Turn 2 could offer him a chance to get ahead of the two Mercedes on the first lap — as it did for Bottas with position reversed last year — but Vettel said he was not expecting to find himself so far off the pace this weekend.

“I was joking with Valtteri that he should remember what happened last year when he was third and I was on pole,” Vettel said. “But you never know, it depends on the start and so many things. We will go racing and try to do our best.

“It’s been a bit of a tricky one for us, we didn’t have the pace and quite a big gap, which was a surprise for us, but we will see how we get on tomorrow.”

It is the second weekend in a row that Ferrari has struggled to match Mercedes for performance, but Vettel said there was nothing wrong with the car itself.

“I was pretty happy, I think the car was working, the balance was pretty good,” he said. “I think it peaked in Q3 just the way it should. I think we got everything we could but I had a tiny mistake because I knew I had half a second to find and not just a couple of hundredths, So we should have been two tenths up on the last lap.

“But I am pretty happy with the car and it’s not like there is a big issue with car balance. I think we reached our full potential today.”