By Alan Baldwin
AUSTRALIAN Daniel Ricciardo seized the first pole position of his Formula One career at the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday with world championship leader Nico Rosberg joining him on the front row for Mercedes.
“High time,” shouted the Red Bull driver over the team radio after being told the news.
The pole, in a time of one minute 13.622 seconds, was the team’s first since Sebastian Vettel at the Brazil Grand Prix in November 2013.
It was also the first time since 2012, when Ricciardo’s compatriot Mark Webber was on pole for Red Bull, that Mercedes did not secure the top slot in Monaco.
Triple world champion Lewis Hamilton qualified third, a remarkable recovery after his car suffered a fuel pressure problem at the start of the final session and had to be pushed back along the pit lane.
Ferrari’s Vettel will join the Briton on the second row for the season’s showcase race, where the harbourside track winds through twisty metal-fenced streets and overtaking is extremely difficult.
Ricciardo, who won three races in 2014 and has made three starts from the front row in his career, came to Monaco with a new and more powerful Tag Heuer-branded Renault engine.
“I knew coming into the weekend we would have a shot at it,” said the Australian.
“I have been driving well but haven’t quite got maximum rewards so I came into this weekend with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief I could be in this position now.”
While Ricciardo celebrated, there was disappointment in the other half of the garage with 18-year-old Dutch driver Max Verstappen crashing in the opening session.
The teenager, whose victory on his Red Bull debut in Spain two weeks ago made him the sport’s youngest winner, will start on the back row.
“I turned in a bit too early, broke the suspension and then couldn’t recover from it. It’s a case of misjudgment,” he said after hitting the curb and smashing into the barrier at the exit to the swimming pool section.
Hamilton’s hopes of pole suffered a big blow at the start of the final 12-minute session when Mercedes told him to stop at the end of the pit lane as he headed out.
Mechanics ran to recover the car, which was fixed in a frantic flurry of activity in the garage.
He then had to abort his first attempt at a quick lap, slowing to avoid being caught in traffic, before setting the third-best time.
“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,” said Hamilton, whose disappointment was plain to all.
“It was as bad as some of the races I have been in, in 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.”
Rosberg leads Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, who qualified sixth but has a five-place grid penalty due to a gearbox change, by 39 points after five races. The German has won the last three Monaco Grands Prix.
Hamilton is 43 points behind his team mate, who started the season by winning four races in a row.
Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg qualified fifth for Force India.
Verstappen’s crash and a blown engine in Brazilian Felipe Nasr’s Sauber meant red flags were waved twice to stop the session in the opening phase.