Daniel Ricciardo secured his maiden pole position for Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix with a stunning fastest lap for Red Bull in an incident-filled qualifying session on Saturday. The 26-year-old Australian, driving with supreme aplomb, mastered the unforgiving Monte Carlo street circuit with a best lap in one minute and 13.622 seconds.
This was enough to beat both Mercedes drivers comprehensively, championship leader German Nico Rosberg winding up second behind him by 0.291 seconds and defending three-time champion Briton Lewis Hamilton third, after suffering another engine problem.
Four-time champion German Sebastian Vettel was fourth for Ferrari ahead of compatriot Nico Hulkenberg of Force India and Finn Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari.
“It’s a special place and I knew we’d have a shot at it here,” said Ricciardo. “It looked good from Thursday. I had it in my mind the whole time and, after Barcelona, I felt like I’ve been driving well—and not got the rewards.
“So I came into this weekend with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief that I could be in this position. I’ve always enjoyed this place, we’ve got a good package and it’s nice to make the most of it.”
Rosberg said: “He was very fast and deserved it. We weren’t fast enough...”
A stony-faced Hamilton said: “I don’t really know what to say... At least, I did a lap so it wasn’t as bad as some of the other races. Pole was there for the taking...”
Ricciardo set his time on a set of ‘super soft’ tyres with greater durability than the ‘ultra softs’ used by his rivals - a likely tactical advantage in Sunday’s classic 78 laps race.
Eight of the last 10 Monaco races have been won from pole position.
His Red Bull team-mate record-breaking Dutch teenager Max Verstappen crashed in the opening Q1 session and will start from the back of the grid.
Ricciardo became the 10th driver to claim a maiden pole at Monte Carlo, joining illustrious names like five-time champion Argentine Juan-Manuel Fangio and Australian Jack Brabham.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz was seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India and Russian Daniil Kvyat in the second Toro Rosso. Two-time champion Spaniard Fernando Alonso was 10th for McLaren Honda.
Drama - On a beautiful blue-skied day, there was early drama in Q1 when Felipe Nasr’s Sauber suffered an engine failure in the opening minutes, smoke pouring from his Ferrari power unit as he came out of the tunnel towards Tabac.
With six minutes remaining, Verstappen lost control of his Red Bull over the kerbs at the Swimming Pool chicane, having clipped a barrier on entry, and, for the second time on Saturday, smashed into the barriers.
“You OK, Max?” the team asked him. “Yeah, I’m ok,” came his dull and crestfallen response.
This produced a second red flag interruption and meant, to the dismay of his fans in the grandstands, the Dutch teenager will start from the back row.
“I felt confident and I think I underestimated it a bit, with the grip I had, and it all went wrong,” he said.
Hamilton quickly set the pace in Q2 with a lap in 1:14.056, four-tenths clear of Rosberg’s first run as Mercedes appeared to turn up the wick ahead of the top ten shootout.
In an intriguing move, Ricciardo went out again on ‘super soft’ tyres - more durable than the widely-used ‘ultra softs’ to improve his time. It meant, also, that he would start the race on those tyres, giving him a possible tactical advantage.
Rosberg also improved his time to pip Hamilton by 0.013 seconds as the session ended with the departures of Finn Valtteri Bottas of Williams in 11th along with Mexican Esteban Gutierrez of Haas.
Also out went Briton Jenson Button of McLaren, Brazilian Felipe Massa in the second Williams, Frenchman Romain Grosjean in the second Haas and Dane Kevin Magnussen of Renault.
No sooner had the lights gone green for Q3 than Hamilton, in the pit lane queue, pulled up. “Guys, there’s something wrong with the engine,” he said. His team of mechanics sprinted to his aid and pushed him back to the Mercedes garage.
It was the third time in four Q3 sessions that the Englishman had radioed the team to say he had lost power - as Rosberg pulled past to begin his laps.
Ricciardo, however, was the man to beat with a flying lap in 1:13.622 that left him nine-tenths clear of all his rivals - stunning evidence of his potential.
Rosberg cut that advantage to 0.291 seconds, but it was clear the Australian had laid down a marker that promised Red Bull were seeking their first pole since 2013.
Hamilton emerged again with five minutes remaining, but without a chance of making two runs to find the pace required.