Ricciardo had made his way through the first two sessions with ease, finishing both segments in fourth place, even setting his fastest lap of Q2 on the supersoft tyre. In those segments, however, it was Ferrari and Mercedes making the headlines, with Sebastian Vettel fastest in Q1 for the Italian squad and Rosberg fastest in Q2. As has become his trademark, however, Ricciardo was keeping his powder dry ahead of showing his real pace in the final segment.
On past occasions, with a less than competitive Red Bull Racing car at his disposal, the benefit has often been masked, a couple of tenths perhaps gaining him a position in the middle of the top 10. However, aided today by Renault’s upgraded power unit, and with clearly the best-balanced chassis on track, Ricciardo delivered a stunning first lap in Q3, power through to a time of 1:13.622 that would remain unbeaten.
Rosberg got close with his second run in Q3, improving to a 1:13.791, but the German admitted that he had simply been outclassed by Ricciardo on the day. Hamilton, too, might have threatened but as he left the Mercedes garage for his first run in Q3 his car’s power unit behaved strangely and he was left stranded at the end of the pit lane. His mechanics quickly pushed him back to the team’s garage where the problem was solved but though Hamilton was on target to challenge Ricciardo’s times on his sole run, a ragged third sector meant he finished third.
While Ricciardo’s efforts gave Red Bull Racing their first pole since the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2013, the day was less successful for the team’s most recent race winner, Max Verstappen. The 18-year-old was an early casualty of the session, getting too close to the barriers on the entry to the Swimming Pool section.
He clipped the barrier on the right and with his suspension broken he went straight into the barrier on the exit of following corner. The red flags brought out for his crash weren’t the first of the session.
Four minutes into Q1, the power unit in Felipe Nasr’s Sauber’s let go in spectacular style and with the Brazilian’s car parked on the track near Tabac the flags had to be shown. With those two removed from the session only four more would be eliminated at the end of the session and there was a predictable shape to that order when the chequered flag fell. Out went Marcus Ericsson in P17, ahead of Jolyon Palmer, Rio Haryanto and Pascal Wehrlein.
Q2 was less predictable and at the end of that segment, the major casualties were Williams, with both its driver being eliminated. Valtteri Bottas finished in 11th place ahead of Haas’s Esteban Gutierrez and McLaren’s Jenson Button, while Felipe Massa was 14th ahead of Haas’ Romain Grosjean and Renault’s Kevin Magnussen.
At the head of the field Rosberg pipped Hamilton for Q2 honours, but the final segment would be all about Ricciardo blistering first flying lap. Behind the Red Bull man and the Mercedes drivers, Sebastian Vettel was fourth and complaining of a poor car. Nico Hulkenberg took a good fifth place for Force India ahead of the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, while Carlos Sainz gave Toro Rosso hope of good points with seventh place, two ahead of team-mate Daniil Kvyat who was beaten by the Force India of Sergio Perez. The final top 10 place was taken by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso.
P. DRIVER TEAM TIME GAP 1. Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull 1:13.622 2. Nico Rosberg Mercedes AMG 1:13.791 + 0.169 3. Lewis Hamilton Mercedes AMG 1:13.942 + 0.320 4. Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:14.552 + 0.930 5. Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:14.182 + 1.104 6. Kimi Raikkonen* Ferrari 1:14.726 + 1.110 7. Carlos Sainz Jr. Toro Rosso 1:14.732 + 1.127 8. Sergio Perez Force India 1:14.749 + 1.280 9. Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:15.273 + 1.651 10. Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:15.363 + 1.741 Q2 Fastest Time: Nico Rosberg 1:14.043 11. Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:15.273 + 1.230 12. Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:15.293 + 1.250 13. Jenson Button McLaren 1:15.352 + 1.309 14. Felipe Massa Williams 1:15.385 + 1.342 15. Romain Grosjean Haas 1:15.571 + 1.528 16. Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:16.058 + 2.015 Q1 Fastest Time: Sebastian Vettel 1:14.610 17. Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:16.299 + 1.689 18. Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:16.586 + 1.976 19. Rio Haryanto Manor 1:17.295 + 2.685 20. Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:17.452 + 2.842 21. Max Verstappen Red Bull 1:22.467 + 7.857 22. Felipe Nasr Sauber no time 107% TIME: 1:19.833
* 5 grid places penalty