Nico Rosberg took his third pole position of the season as team-mate and main title rival Lewis Hamilton crashed out in Q3.
Rosberg has posted a solid first run time of 1:42.758 and was setting about a second run when Hamilton, who already made a mistake on his first run and was in P9, made a tiny miscalculation in Turn 12 on his second run. The result was broken suspension, a dislodged front-right wheel and red flags.
With a healthy margin to Sergio Perez, who was also one of the few drivers to get a clean lap in the first runs, Rosberg elected to stay in the Mercedes garage to watch as the rest of the top 10, minus Hamilton, waited for the re-start, with jjst two minutes and five seconds on the clock.
Such a short space of time would allow for just one warm-up lap and one flying lap and with a number of drivers having already complained of the difficulty of finding a clean lap due to traffic and tyre warm-up, track position would be crucial.
And it was Red Bull who managed to get one of its drivers to the head of the queue at the pit exit.
Daniel Ricciardo was first out on track as the lights went green and in a frantic end to the session the Australian capitalised, climbing for the P7 yielded by an untidy first flyer to P3 with a big lap under big pressure.
Behind him on track was Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and though the four-time champion set an identical time to Ricciardo, 1:43.966, the Australian’s track position handed him P3.
Ricciardo will rise to the front row of the grid for tomorrow’s race tool, as second-placed qualifier Sergio Pérez is facing a five-place grid drop due to a crash late in FP3 necessitating an unscheduled gearbox change on his Force India car.
Afterwards, Rosberg expressed delight at the result: “It was one of the more challenging sessions out there, but everything worked out well. There was a bit of reorganizing because for example in Quali 3 Lewis had an off in front of me, so I had to abort that lap and then I just had one more attempt at the end, but that worked out fine. No, I’m very, very happy. It was great.”
For Perez, it was a slightly bittersweet session, in the knowledge that his second place will translate to a seventh-place start once his penalty is applied.
“Obviously I’m a still a bit angry from the mistake of this morning,” he said. “I think it’s a mix of feelings today. I think the lap that we put together in Q3 was very, very strong. After a crash you obviously lose some confidence. To get it back, to get in the rhythm again was great. Very pleased with that and hopefully tomorrow we can do a lot of progress and aim for a very strong position. Obviously, with the penalty I’m starting seventh. I think the team deserves more than and hopefully tomorrow we can put together a strong race.”
Ricciardo, meanwhile, thanked his team for putting him in the position to get a clean lap in the final minutes of the session following the red flag.
“Thanks to the team for getting me out at the front and giving me that clear track to make sure that I got a lap in,” he said. “My first run in Q3 was pretty average to say the least. I made a few mistakes. Then obviously I thought I had one more chance but then the red flag came out. I thought that was looking like that was it. They got me out in front and then I put in the lap, so it was good. I knew not everyone would get a lap, so I was just trying to thing “do a good enough lap to at least jump up from seventh”, but in the end it was third. I’m really happy to bounce back with top three.”
Behind Ricciardo and Vettel, fifth place went to Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen with Felipe Massa sixth for Williams. Daniil Kvyat put in a good lap to claim seventh for Toro Rosso ahead of the second Williams of Valtteri Bottas and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen in P9. The unfortunate Hamilton qualified in P10.
The big casualty of Q1 was McLaren’s Jenson Button, who was eliminated in P19 behind the Manors of Rio Haryanto in P17 and Pascal Wehrlein. Behind Button were Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson and the Renaults of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer.
Eliminated in Q2 were Romain Grosjean in P11 followed by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz, McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, Haas’ Esteban Gutierrez and Sauber’s Felipe Nasr.
2016 Grand Prix of Europe – Qualifying
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 1:43.685 1:42.520 1:42.758
2 Sergio Perez Force India 1:44.462 1:43.939 1:43.515
3 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 1:44.570 1:44.141 1:43.966
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1:45.062 1:44.461 1:43.966
5 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1:44.936 1:44.533 1:44.269
6 Felipe Massa Williams 1:45.494 1:44.696 1:44.483
7 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1:44.694 1:44.687 1:44.717
8 Valtteri Bottas Williams 1:44.706 1:44.477 1:45.246
9 Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 1:44.939 1:14.387 1:45.570
10 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1:44.259 1:43.526 2:01.954
11 Romain Grosjean Haas 1:45.507 1:44.755
12 Nico Hulkenberg Force India 1:44.860 1:44.824
13 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 1:44.827 1:45.000
14 Fernando Alonso McLaren 1:45.525 1:45.270
15 Esteban Gutierrez Haas 1:45.300 1:45.349
16 Felipe Nasr Sauber 1:45.549 1:46.048
17 Rio Haryanto Manor 1:45.665
18 Pascal Wehrlein Manor 1:45.750
19 Jenson Button McLaren 1:45.804
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1:46.231
21 Kevin Magnussen Renault 1:46.348
22 Jolyon Palmer Renault 1:46.394