Shwartzman secures Sochi pole to set up title showdown

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Robert Shwartzman switched on the styled when it counted, scoring his first pole position since Round 1 in Barcelona, to put himself within touching distance of the Formula 3 crown.
The Russian was rampant on home turf, fighting off strong sprints from both of his teammates to finish at the peak of a PREMA Racing 1-2-3. Jehan Daruvala secured second in the dying embers, while Marcus Armstrong settled for third.
With the title at stake, PREMA duo Shwartzman and Daruvala were first out on track and set fast flying laps, but both had to settle for a place beneath Free Practice pacesetter Marcus Armstrong.
Despite them starting so strongly, Niko Kari continued his upward turn of form to snatch provisional pole from the grasp of PREMA, climbing ahead of them with a lap of 1:53.845. Shwartzman found another gear shortly after to leap to the peak of the times, just ahead of Armstrong and the Finn.
The cars dived into the pits for a  freshen up ahead of the second stint and Kari returned in similarly determined fashion, once again going top thanks to a purple sector 2. This forced Shwartzman to find further pace once more and yet again he obliged, returning to P1 with a time of under 1m 53s.
Armstrong attempted to better his teammate, but a slight wobble lost him time and he could only manage second. Meanwhile, Kari looked to have given it all he had, as slow second and third sectors cost him.
When the chequered flag was waved, the two title challengers had one last shot at pole and went head-to-head. Daruvala crossed the line first and briefly took P1, but he was shunted to second when Shwartzman nailed the perfect lap, firing in three purple sectors.
The title challenger now holds a 37-point lead in the Championship with just 44 left to play for. He starts ahead of his main rival Daruvala tomorrow, followed by the third PREMA of Armstrong. Kari and Christian Lundgaard complete the top five, ahead of Jake Hughes, Pedro Piquet, Leonardo Pulcini, Jüri Vips and Max Fewtrell.
The enthralling title battle could come to a close tomorrow morning, when racing returns at 10.15am (local time).
2019 FIA Formula 3 Championship Round 8 – Qualifying provisional classification
Pos. Driver Team Laptime Laps
1 Robert Shwartzman PREMA Racing 01:52.6 14
2 Jehan Daruvala PREMA Racing 01:52.8 14
3 Marcus Armstrong PREMA Racing 01:52.9 13
4 Niko Kari Trident 01:53.2 12
5 Christian Lundgaard ART Grand Prix 01:53.3 14
6 Jake Hughes HWA RACELAB 01:53.3 12
7 Pedro Piquet Trident 01:53.3 13
8 Leonardo Pulcini Hitech Grand Prix 01:53.5 13
9 Juri Vips Hitech Grand Prix 01:53.5 13
10 Max Fewtrell ART Grand Prix 01:53.5 13
11 Felipe Drugovich Carlin Buzz Racing 01:53.6 12
12 Logan Sargeant Carlin Buzz Racing 01:53.6 12
13 Richard Verschoor MP Motorsport 01:53.8 14
14 Bent Viscaal HWA RACELAB 01:53.8 12
15 Raoul Hyman Sauber Junior Team by Charouz 01:53.9 14
16 Devlin DeFrancesco Trident 01:53.9 13
17 Yuki Tsunoda Jenzer Motorsport 01:53.9 13
18 Ye Yifei Hitech Grand Prix 01:53.9 13
19 Teppei Natori Carlin Buzz Racing 01:54.0 12
20 Sebastian Fernandez Campos Racing 01:54.0 12
21 Lirim Zendeli Sauber Junior Team by Charouz 01:54.1 14
22 Fabio Scherer Sauber Junior Team by Charouz 01:54.1 13
23 Liam Lawson MP Motorsport 01:54.6 13
24 Simo Laaksonen MP Motorsport 01:54.8 13
25 David Schumacher Campos Racing 01:54.9 13
26 Andreas Estner Jenzer Motorsport 01:54.9 13
27 Keyvan Andres HWA RACELAB 01:55.1 11
28 Alessio Deledda Campos Racing 01:56.3 12
29 Leong Hon Chio Jenzer Motorsport 01:57.2 10