MY TIME: Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo has secured not only his maiden pole, but also prime position. Image: AFP / Andrej Isakovic
Monte Carlo, Principality of Monaco - A beaming Daniel Ricciardo secured his maiden career pole position and a clear tactical advantage when he produced a stunning fastest lap for Red Bull in Saturday's incident-packed qualifying session for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.
The 26-year-old Australian, driving with supreme aplomb, mastered the unforgiving barrier-lined Monte Carlo street circuit with a best lap in 1min13.622 seconds, a time he set using a set of 'super soft' tyres, considered to be more durable and less adhesive than the 'ultra softs' used by his rivals.
It was enough to beat both Mercedes drivers comprehensively, championship leader Nico Rosberg winding up second, behind him by 0.291 seconds, and defending three-times champion Lewis Hamilton third, after suffering more engine problems that restricted his running in Q3.
With his tyres, Ricciardo not only has the prime starting position on a track where it is almost impossible to overtake, but he also has a chance to run a longer first stint than his main competitors.
"The plan was to go out on the ultra soft in the first run in Q2 and at least try and do a good enough lap with that," said the beaming Perth-born driver. "And then, we had the time on our side so we thought let's try and see what a super soft can do.
"We just feel maybe it opens up a few more options for the race tomorrow...."
His team boss Christian Horner was delighted, too, on a day when the team's newly-promoted record-breaking teenager Max Verstappen, crashed into the barriers at the Swimming Pool complex.
The youngest race winner in the sport after his triumph in Spain two weeks ago, he will start from the back of the grid in Sunday's 78-lap race.
"I am sure he will do something special from there," said Horner, as Red Bull celebrated a first pole since the 2013 Brazilian Grand Prix and first in Monte Carlo for four years.
"It was an amazing performance," said Horner. "That first lap in Q3 was dynamie - to be in the 1:13's around here... Wow!"
"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, who had warned of the rising threat from Red Bull, said: "I don't think it got away from me - it just never was with me because Daniel was just so quick today. They got a well deserved pole and 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."
Hamilton's prospects of snatching pole were wrecked when he had to pull up in the pit lane as he queued to join the fray in Q3. He reported his engine problems and his mechanics ran to rescue him, pushing the car back to the garage while his main rivals were lapping the track.
It was a setback he did not recover from as, after repairs, he could only make one run in a bid to find the necessary speed and tyre performance.
The team said his engine problem was caused by a "fuel pressure issue" and added that a similar problem had caused a delay to Rosberg starting Q3.
Hamilton's grim face during the post-session formalities told its own story as, for the third time in four Q3 sessions, he lost power and was left to declare: "I will do what I can to salvage what I can."
Since eight of the last 10 Monaco races have been won by pole, he faces a challenge, but it is one he overcame when he claimed his only win in 2008.
Four-times champion German Sebastian Vettel was fourth for Ferrari ahead of compatriot Nico Hulkenberg of Force India and Finn Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari.
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.