Championship leader Nico Rosberg recorded his twenty-third career pole position at the Chinese Grand Prix while his title rival Lewis Hamilton suffered a technical issue and will start last.
A five-place grid penalty for the reigning world champion Hamilton meant he was never going to start on pole, but his Mercedes failed to even figure in the battle thanks to an energy recovery system (ERS) problem that meant he was unable to escape Q1.
Friday practice pacesetter Kimi Raikkonen was on provisional pole after the first runs in Q3, but he made a mistake at the penultimate corner and couldn’t improve.
Ferrari team-mate Sebastian Vettel only made a single run in Q3, but the end result was just fourth position.
Ricciardo therefore grabbed this opportunity with a superb final effort in his Red Bull, 0.055 seconds faster than Raikkonen’s Ferrari but over half a second down on Rosberg, who got through Q2 on soft tyres and can consequently start the race on a different strategy to the other front running cars.
So second position for Daniel Ricciardo is an impressive achievement. The potential for Red Bull and the honey badger looks good.
The Williams of Valtteri Bottas was fifth quickest, slightly slower than Vettel, while Daniil Kvyat rounded out the top six.
Sergio Perez was seventh fastest for Force India, ahead of the Toro Rosso pair of Carlos Sainz Jr and Max Verstappen.
Nico Hulkenberg completed the top ten, but Force India will likely be penalised for an unsafe release after his car shed its left-front wheel in the closing minutes of Q2.
That prevented any drivers from completing second runs in this segment, and meant Felipe Massa’s Williams missed out on the top ten by just 0.014 seconds to Hulkenberg.
The McLarens of Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, Romain Grosjean’s Haas, and the Saubers of Marcus Ericsson and Felipe Nasr completed the top 16 in that order.
Alonso groaned repeatedly with frustration when told over McLaren’s radio that he would have to abort his second run, while team-mate Button’s response was “Are you kidding me?! One day we’ll show our true pace”.
Kevin Magnussen’s Renault and the Haas-Ferrari of Esteban Gutierrez both fell at the first part of qualifying, thanks to late improvements from the Saubers.
Magnussen, who lost most of Friday’s dry running to a rear suspension problem, almost did enough with his final flying lap, but Nasr bumped him out by less than a hundredth of a second.
Gutierrez ended up P18, paying the price for Haas completing its second Q1 runs too early as the track improved.
Renault’s Jolyon Palmer was nearly eight tenths slower in P19, but well ahead of Rio Haryanto’s Manor-Mercedes.
Hamilton’s ERS problems meant he failed to set a time in qualifying, but he will start last on account of a five-place grid penalty for an unscheduled gearbox change ahead of the Chinese Grand Prix.
Bahrain qualifying star Pascal Wehrlein also failed to set a time, after the DTM champion lost control of his slick-shod car over a wet patch on the start/finish straight and glanced the barriers in the early stages of Q1.
That accident caused a lengthy delay to the session as marshals attempted to dry out this part of the circuit with a track sweeper.
So a Silver Arrows bookend. Championship challenger on pole position while defending title winner at the back. The honey badger can fight for glory. Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix is going to be exciting.
Qualifying standings, Chinese Grand Prix:
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1m35.402s
2 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1m35.917s
3 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m35.972s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m36.246s
5 Valtteri Bottas Williams-Mercedes 1m36.296s
6 Daniil Kvyat Red Bull-TAG Heuer 1m36.399s
7 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m36.865s
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m36.881s
9 Max Verstappen Toro Rosso-Ferrari 1m37.194s
10 Nico Hulkenberg Force India-Mercedes No time
11 Felipe Massa Williams-Mercedes 1m37.347s
12 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Honda 1m38.826s
13 Jenson Button McLaren-Honda 1m39.093s
14 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m39.830s
15 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m40.742s
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber-Ferrari 1m42.430s
17 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1m38.673s
18 Esteban Gutierrez Haas-Ferrari 1m38.770s
19 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1m39.528s
20 Rio Haryanto Manor-Mercedes 1m40.264s
21 Pascal Wehrlein Manor-Mercedes No time
22 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes No time