MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Daniel Ricciardo unleashed a blistering final lap on Saturday to end a frustrating 24 hours with a glimmer of hope and seventh place on the starting grid for his home Australian Grand Prix.
Exasperated after everything had seemed to be going against him, the Red Bull driver saved his best for last and whipped around the Melbourne track in one minute 28.329 seconds.
The Australian was still two seconds behind double world champion Lewis Hamilton, who snatched pole position for a Mercedes team that looks to have Sunday’s race at their mercy, but relieved after fearing he might start further back.
“I’m happy now. Or happier. It’s only seventh but how the weekend has been going, I think we’ve got to be really happy with that,” he said.
“Qualifying was the first time I got to use a soft tire this weekend and we chipped away at it. That’s what I was most pleased about, the progress we made through the session. So that’s promising.”
Ricciardo, third in last year’s championship and the only non-Mercedes driver to win a race, had endured a rotten start to the weekend.
He missed Friday’s final practice session after a power unit failure, leaving him with only three to last the rest of the season without incurring a penalty.
He also lost more valuable time on Saturday when the car stalled after leaving pit lane.
“It has been tricky, definitely. We suffered a bit this time last year but we’re probably having a few more issues this year which I guess weren’t expected,” said the Australian, now the main man at Red Bull following quadruple champion Sebastian Vettel’s departure for Ferrari.
“It’s like that for now and we’ve got to try and sort it out. A little bit of whiplash here and there but it’s alright.”
Ricciardo’s team mate, Russian Daniil Kvyat, qualified 13th with Mercedes, Ferrari and Williams filling the top six places.
Ricciardo, who won three races last year, said seventh was as good as he could have hoped for.
“It was fun to sort of feel the car for once and actually get to push it properly and I think seventh is good,” he said.
“If you look at the three teams in front of us, they’ve been the ones who have been up there all weekend...so seventh is where we are now and I’m happy we at least achieved that.”
Reporting by Julian Linden, editing by Alan Baldwin