Red Bull dominates Monaco practice again, Verstappen crashes

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton of Britain gets in his car in the team box during the third free practice at the Monaco racetrack, in Monaco, Saturday, May 26, 2018. The Formula one race will be held on Sunday. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

MONACO (AP) Daniel Ricciardo took a dominant pole position for the Monaco Grand Prix on Saturday, softening the blow for Red Bull after his teammate Max Verstappen failed to even start qualifying, having earlier crashed in final practice.

Ricciardo topped all three sections of qualifying, setting a lap record in the process for only his second career pole. The other was also in Monaco, two years ago.

”We sent a statement and have been quickest every session,” Ricciardo said. ”Just the race tomorrow and then we will celebrate. I have done everything I can so let’s finish the job.”

That sounded like a coded message to his team after a botched pit stop cost him victory here in 2016.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel qualified second ahead of championship leader Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. In a further boost for Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen was fourth ahead of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas.

A sloppy error from Hamilton late in his qualifying run enabled Vettel to jump from third to second.

”I feel we’ve put ourselves in a good position, got as close as we could,” Vettel said. ”I don’t feel there was a threat to Daniel’s time today. It was expected here, they have a stronger downforce than anybody else.”

Vettel won last year from second. But that was after a controversial team decision to pit Raikkonen, who finished second from pole.

”It’s nearly impossible to overtake, but it’s still one of the most fascinating races,” Vettel said. ”Things can happen here.”

With its winding corners and lack of fast straights, the sinewy 3.34-kilometer (2.1-mile) track helps Red Bull because it cancels out the superior speed of Ferrari and Mercedes.

”We knew we wouldn’t be the quickest here, just did the best we could,” Hamilton said. ”Doesn’t feel great, but it’s only one race.”

Ricciardo will be optimistic of grabbing his second win of the season, after victory in China last month, and seventh overall. The Australian driver was also fastest in all three practice sessions.

”It was a battle with myself, wanting to be the quickest from the start and reach my personal goals,” Ricciardo said. ”I just wanted to see my name on top and keep that momentum going.”

There will be contrasting moods in Red Bull’s garage.

Verstappen crashed under no pressure moments from the end of P3. He sustained damage to his front wing and right front tire, while the suspension was broken.

Red Bull changed his gearbox, meaning he incurred a five-place grid penalty. But it made no difference anyway as the car was not ready for qualifying. The 20-year-old Dutch driver will start from last place.

He locked his brakes exiting the swimming pool section next to the famed harbor, slid across the track and slammed into the barriers. Two years ago, Verstappen also started from the back after the same crash in qualifying.

Ricciardo played down his teammate’s error.

”The risk and reward is very well known here,” Ricciardo said. ”It’s no surprise these things can happen.”

Hamilton has won the past two races and leads the championship by 17 points ahead of Vettel, who won the opening two races. Vettel would be closer but finished eighth in China after being clipped by Verstappen.

Then, at the Azerbaijan GP last month, Ricciardo crashed into the back of Verstappen who defended his position aggressively with a podium finish in sight. Both drivers went out of the race and were sternly rebuked by management.

Ricciardo was asked if he was relieved that he does not need to overtake Verstappen on Sunday.

Pausing for a moment, Ricciardo grinned and said: ”That’s a bad question … No comment.”

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Jerome Pugmire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeromepugmire