Daniel Ricciardo will start from the front row for Sunday’s European Grand Prix after an incident-packed qualifying session at Baku which saw world champion Lewis Hamilton crash out in the final session and his Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg grab pole position.
Hamilton had a shocking session in which he overshot several corners as he struggled to come to grips with the fast and smooth new Azerbaijan street circuit. The session was red flagged with two minutes and five seconds left on the clock, giving the drivers one flying lap to set a better time.
Crucially Ricciardo led the field out of the pits for the restart and managed to improve his time from seventh to third fastest in one minute 43.966. He will start from second because Force India’s Sergio Perez – who was second fastest in qualifying – has to serve a five-place grid penalty.
Happy trio: Top three qualifiers Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Rosberg and Sergio Perez.
The Ferraris of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth and fifth fastest but will start from the second row. Vettel had the same time as Ricciardo, but starts behind because the Red Bull had track position and crossed the line first.
After qualifying Ricciardo said he was thrilled to be alongside Rosberg for the race start.
“It was hectic it was intense,” he said. “Thanks to the team for getting me out at the front and giving me that clear run to make sure I got a lap in,” he said.
Picturesque: Daniel Ricciardo driving his Red Bull during the final practice before the European Formula One Grand Prix …
Hamilton, who will start from eighth, said he was in now damage limitation for the grand prix. “I had a fantastic rhythm yesterday and zero today,” he said.
Earlier, Ricciardo had spoken about how his recent bad luck on track was driving him to greater heights.
“I want copious amounts of champagne to be honest and that’s only from the podium,” he told Fox Sports. “If I do win a race this year I will grab the trophy so hard and with so much prowess that I will probably snap it in two.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Fox Sports he’d never had any doubt that Ricciardo would remain at Red Bull until the end of 2018.
“Daniel signed a five-year contract … and he’s only halfway through,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot of interest there [from other teams] because he’s an in-form driver … [but] he’s under lock and key until 2018.”
Horner said while Ricciardo had been challenged by the arrival of the young and fast Max Verstappen to the team the Australian had “responded in the best possibly way”, adding that as a team principal he had experience with teammates who were rivals, given Mark Webber’s notorious on-track battles with Sebastian Vettel.
“Dan is a very different character to Mark, he’s got that inner confidence … he stepped it up a bit. Monaco he was in a class of his own he was just a bit unlucky.”
Horner said Ricciardo would get the benefit of various mechanical upgrades as the season progressed. “We’re ahead of expectations,” he said. “I think the second half of the year should be more competitive for us.”