Daniel Ricciardo delivered a spectacularly fast qualifying lap in Monaco to claim his first ever pole position.
Following a challenging race in Spain a fortnight ago, Ricciardo bounced back strongly and put in a highly impressive drive to fend off Rosberg and Hamilton who both suffered fuel pressure issues in Q3.
Vettel qualified in fourth place ahead of Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who will lose five places after a gearbox change. Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, Force India’s Sergio Perez, Daniil Kvyat in the other Toro Rosso, and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso rounded out the top ten.
Red flags dominate Q1
The opening stage of qualifying was punctuated with two red flags.
With many cars still on their out-lap in Q1, the engine in Felipe Nasr’s Sauber puffed out a cloud of white smoke as he exited the tunnel. Nasr was forced to abandon his car on the side of the track and a red flag came out while a crane removed the Sauber.
When racing resumed, Hamilton and Vettel traded the quickest laps with Rosberg and Ricciardo closely behind in third and fourth.
But about mid-way through Q1, Verstappen in the Red Bull clipped the inside barrier at Turn 15 and broke his suspension shaft. Verstappen was a passenger after that and guided straight into the Turn 16 wall to prematurely end his qualifying.
“Of course that is not the way you want to start for tomorrow,” said Verstappen.
“I turned in a bit too early, broke the suspension and then couldn’t recover from it. It’s a case of misjudgement – that is all.”
Also exiting in Q1 were both Manor’s but with Haryanto again qualifying quicker than his team-mate Pascal Wehrlein, who is rumoured to be a contender for a drive at Mercedes next year.
Jolyon Palmer was also eliminated and will start in 17th place.
Mercedes on top in Q2
Mercedes dominated Q2 but it was Red Bull’s strategy that proved the talking point.
Hamilton delivered early in the session to land the fastest lap – almost three-tenths ahead of Vettel and Ricciardo.
But with Ricciardo’s position in Q3 almost guaranteed, Red Bull switched tactics away from the ultra soft tyres and were the only team to use the super softs.
Remarkably, Ricciardo delivered an even quicker time on the super softs and will be the only driver starting on those tyres – letting him go longer in the race before needing to stop.
Christian Horner, the Team Principal at Red Bull said after the race, “We felt the super soft has a bit more range. If you are on that tyre it gives you more strategic options.”
As Q2 came to a close, Rosberg nailed a lap of 1m 14.043s to finish on top while both Haas and Williams cars were eliminated together with McLaren’s Jenson Button.
Hamilton looking to ‘salvage’ race again
Hamilton seems to be cursed with issues this season and his bright start to qualifying came to an end as he was exiting the pit to start Q3.
Mercedes told Hamilton to stop his car before leaving the pit and the team later said that he had problems with the fuel pressure.
Pushed back into the pits, the team managed to rectify the issue and Hamilton returned to the track to claim 3rd spot on a circuit that is notoriously difficult to overtake.
“I don’t really know what to say at the moment but the good thing is I did get out to do a lap at least,” reflected Hamilton.
“It was as bad as some of the races have been in the respect of the engine problems so I’m grateful to be up in third.”
“Pole was there for the taking but I will do what I can in the race to salvage what I can from today’s result.”
Meantime, Ricciardo pulled off a stunning lap of 1m 13.622s to claim pole position and Red Bull’s first pole position since Barcelona in 2013.
“I came into this weekend with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief I could be in this position,” said Ricciardo.
“I have always enjoyed this place. We have a good package behind us and it’s nice to be able to make the most of out it.”
Rosberg will join him on the front row, and with forecasts of rain on raceday, an intriguing race is set up in Monaco.
The race will start at 14:00 local time and will run over 78 laps.