Daniel Ricciardo comes from the clouds to win an extraordinary race – here’s 10 things you need to know about a GP packed with incident and accident in Shanghai.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM
With China coming hot on the heels of Bahrain the previous weekend, there were still stories from Sakhir to sort out – Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton eventually calling a truce after trading barbs following their on-track clash, Pierre Gasly explaining his subtle trolling of McLaren after finishing a career-best fourth (he admitted it was to give Honda credit), and plenty more besides. When qualifying finally got underway under overcast skies and in temperatures of just 12 degrees, it was Sebastian Vettel who picked up where he left off in Bahrain, breaking the circuit record on his final lap with a 1min 31.095secs stunner to edge Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen by just 0.087secs. Ferrari’s first back-to-back front-row lockouts in 12 years was one thing, but the margin back to the best Mercedes (Valtteri Bottas in third was half a second slower) was alarming for the Silver Arrows. World champion Hamilton was oddly off Bottas’ pace and aborted his final lap after running wide, but he was at least faster than the Red Bulls, Verstappen (fifth) beating Daniel Ricciardo by 0.152secs in a session Ricciardo didn’t look destined to start at all after a spectacular turbo failure in final practice. The team installed a new engine in next to no time, having the appreciative Australian back out on track three minutes before Q1 ended. Further back, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg at least knew where to line up on race day – he started seventh for the sixth straight race – while Bahrain standout Gasly fell back to earth with a thud, eliminated in Q1 and starting just 17th, behind Toro Rosso teammate Brendon Hartley.
The race in exactly 69 words*
Vettel led early but looked set to lose to Bottas after the Mercedes undercut him in the pit stops, but a mid-race safety car saw Red Bull roll the dice from third (Verstappen) and fifth (Ricciardo) with second stops for tyres. Verstappen ran wide fighting Hamilton on lap 39, and Ricciardo then passed Raikkonen, Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas to take a lead he wouldn’t relinquish with 12 laps left.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)
Let’s face it, 6900 words, not 69, would do justice to Ricciardo’s sixth Formula One win. So we’ll restrain ourselves to these …
That Ricciardo was sixth on the grid at all was thanks largely to his mechanics performing a herculean task to replace his engine in swift order for qualifying, but his race didn’t seem destined to reach any great heights when he was stuck where he started in the first stint, Verstappen looking the Red Bull more likely to make the rostrum after his superb start that saw him jump Raikkonen and Hamilton on lap one. The Dutchman was far enough ahead of Ricciardo that the team could double-stack the cars for their first pit stops on lap 17, and it appeared Red Bull would nurse the medium-compound tyres to the end and Ricciardo would finish, at best, fifth. But when Toro Rosso teammates Gasly and Hartley clashed at the Turn 14 hairpin and left debris strewn all over the circuit, Red Bull spied a chance to pit both drivers in quick succession again under safety car conditions, and Ricciardo suddenly had a sniff on a brand-new set of soft Pirellis he could thrash to the flag.
Raikkonen was dispatched into the hairpin on lap 37 with what – at the time – looked to be the move of the race, but Ricciardo was barely getting started. Verstappen’s off-track excursion after coming perilously close to touching Hamilton as they fought two laps later promoted the Australian to fourth, and he then nailed Hamilton at his favourite spot a lap later with a pass that was late on the brakes even by his standards. Vettel was his next victim on the back straight on lap 42, and three laps later, he dived underneath Bottas for the lead at Turn 4, and that was that.
Ricciardo careered away to win by over eight seconds, set the fastest lap of the race two laps from home, and looked like he couldn’t quite believe what he’d done when he beamed on the podium before – you guessed it – the obligatory post-race shoey.
“I don’t seem to win boring races,” Ricciardo laughed, and he has a point. All six of his F1 victories have come from outside the top three on the grid.
“I have lots of emotions,” he added.
“On the in-lap I was just smiling and I didn’t have many words, then on the podium I was nearly in tears. In the press conference I was just thinking about the whole race and also about last week; how disappointed this sport can make you feel but also how high it can make you feel.”
What the result means
Vettel looked odds-on to snare his 50th Grand Prix win after his qualifying masterclass, and Bottas then seemed set to take a victory that he arguably needed considering the amount of airtime given to his failed pursuit of Vettel for the win in Bahrain seven days earlier. But Ricciardo’s victory vaulted the Australian right back into the championship mix after his second-lap exit at Sakhir the Sunday prior, and just fourth for Shanghai specialist Hamilton extended Mercedes’ strangely slow start to 2018. As it was, the world champion was promoted a place after Verstappen was penalised for causing a collision when he collected Vettel at the hairpin on lap 43, the Dutchman having 10 seconds added to his race time for a clash he admitted fault for and which dropped him to fifth.
Vettel struggled after the incident and fell to eighth by the flag, robustly passed (with some joy, we’re sure) by McLaren’s Fernando Alonso on the penultimate lap.
With 54 points, Vettel leads the standings by nine points from Hamilton, with Bottas in third (40) and Ricciardo (37) surging to fourth. In three Grands Prix, we’ve had two different teams on pole, two teams win races and the reigning champs of the past four years yet to spray the champagne of victory. Reads like a recipe for a fun season to us …
For historical purposes …
Ricciardo’s win means Mercedes has gone three races without a victory for the first time since the advent of Formula One’s V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014 – a remarkable span lasting 82 races.
The number to know
6: Ricciardo’s starting position on the grid before taking his sixth win. For the record, the only race won from outside the top five on the grid in 20 Grands Prix last year was by Ricciardo in Azerbaijan, where he started 10th after crashing in qualifying.
Winners (and their grins) didn’t come any bigger than Ricciardo in China, but you could argue Hamilton was a winner of sorts despite his race being a “disaster”; the world champion halved his series deficit to Vettel on a weekend Ferrari were indisputably faster, and Mercedes jumped the Scuderia to take over the lead in the constructors’ championship by one point. The Briton also set a record for most consecutive finishes in the points (28). Hulkenberg finished inside the top seven again and has scored 22 of Renault’s 25 points so far, while Alonso was his usual opportunistic self for McLaren, snaring a third-straight top-10 finish despite failing to qualify for Q3 yet this season.
The naughty corner
A week after his brilliant fourth in Bahrain, China was a horror show for Gasly, penalised 10 seconds for his clash with teammate Hartley that saw the New Zealander eventually retire with gearbox damage while Gasly nursed a damaged car to 18th. Verstappen’s 10-second penalty for the Vettel clash saw Red Bull motorsport boss Dr Helmut Marko suggest the Dutchman had “given away” a win that was “on the table”, while Vettel would have expected to have left China with more than four points to his name after his pole and leading for the first 20 laps.
Other than a large exhale, you mean? The rhythm of the season takes an atypical twist next time out with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as round four on the 2018 calendar (April 29); in its previous two years on the schedule, Baku has been the eighth Grand Prix of the year, and well into the northern hemisphere summer in late June. Last year’s winner on this curious mix of street circuit and flat-out motorway blast alongside the Caspian Sea? None other than Ricciardo in what was, by any measure, one of the craziest races of recent times – before last Sunday, anyway …