In only his second race since returning from a broken hand, Ricciardo claimed a superb fourth for AlphaTauri to secure an unexpected spot on the second row with a lap that was just two-tenths off pole position.
The Australian also made a strong statement by outpacing the under-pressure Sergio Perez at the Mexican’s home race as he looks to stake a claim to return to the Red Bull senior team.
“I think there was definitely a positive chip on my shoulder, I know I haven’t done much this year race-wise, but I feel a lot like my old self and I feel like I can do well,” Ricciardo told Sky.
“So there were a lot of things that were there and it kind of brought out a lot of confidence. Even in P3 this morning, I was P9 and I wasn’t happy at all with my lap.
“But as opposed to being frustrated with that, it gave me confidence coming into quali that we can clean it up and we’re going to be well inside the top-10.”
The result exceeded both AlphaTauri and Ricciardo’s expectations, with the 34-year-old thinking he would be P6 or P7 with “the perfect lap”.
"It was one of those weeks where I definitely felt, already Sunday night in Austin I was wanting it to be Friday practice. I wanted to get back in the car,” Ricciardo added.
"I felt like there were some things left on the table and some things with setup that we knew we could try with a more conventional weekend. Some things I definitely wanted to try and had some confidence in.
"From Lap 1 yesterday I felt really confident. P4 is maybe a little more than we thought. Coming into qualy it was about how far could we get inside Q3. As a team we definitely had confidence.
"I thought maybe with the perfect lap it would be P6 or P7, not quite a P4, so it's cool.”