What happened at the Chinese Grand Prix?

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.


The build-up
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)

Ricciardo recap
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
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.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
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.

What’s next?
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 …


What happened at the Bahrain Grand Prix?

Sebastian Vettel prevails in a late-race thriller, but it was a dark night under night skies for Red Bull – here’s 10 things you need to know about what went down at Sakhir.


The build-up
Ferrari may have ridden its luck with a fortuitously-timed safety car and a Mercedes strategy stuff-up to win in Melbourne, but Australian Grand Prix victor Sebastian Vettel owed his 51st pole position to a fast car and a heavy right foot, the German leading a Prancing Horse front-row lock-out as he headed teammate Kimi Raikkonen by 0.143secs in qualifying. The red cars were the class of the field throughout practice, and their march to pole was made even easier when Mercedes revealed Lewis Hamilton needed a new gearbox for the race, triggering a five-place grid penalty. As it was, Hamilton could qualify only fourth, behind teammate Valtteri Bottas, and while he was set to start the race on the more durable soft-compound Pirelli tyre in an attempt to run a longer first stint than his rivals, Mercedes were already talking of “damage limitation” as qualifying concluded. Daniel Ricciardo inherited Hamilton’s fourth place on the grid and was moderately pleased with being just four-tenths of a second off Vettel’s pole time, while teammate Max Verstappen was the biggest casualty of qualifying, the Dutchman throwing his Red Bull at the Turn 2 fence in Q1 after what the team called a sudden burst of extra horsepower he clearly could have done without. Further back, Pierre Gasly turned heads when he wrestled his Honda-powered Toro Rosso to sixth, leaving ex-Honda customer McLaren “astonished” when Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne could qualify just 13th and 14th respectively.

The race in exactly 69 words*
Vettel led comfortably early, but Mercedes forced the Ferrari into a one-stop strategy to attack the German on fading tyres, and nearly stole it – Vettel was just 0.6secs clear at the flag from Bottas. A strong start propelled Hamilton into the fight, and he inherited third when Raikkonen retired after a calamitous pit stop where he hit a mechanic. Both Red Bulls? Out with mechanical failures after five laps.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

What the result means
While Australia was a race Ferrari controlled, Bahrain was one where they were on the defensive after Vettel switched to Plan B after pitting for soft tyres 18 laps in. Eking out 39 laps on soft rubber at Sakhir was no mean feat, and the German said his tyres “were done for the last 10 laps”, meaning his second victory of the season was one won by guile as much as grunt. Bottas had a solid weekend, but when you start seven places ahead of your teammate, finish less than six seconds in front and make a fairly tame attempt at a pass for the win at the first corner on the final lap, Bahrain wasn’t your finest hour. Would Hamilton, let alone either Red Bull, have been more audacious with the big prize on offer in the same situation? Regardless, while Mercedes looked the faster car throughout pre-season testing, it’s Ferrari leading 2-0 on two very different circuits to kick off 2018.

Ricciardo recap
Not a lot to say here for the Australian, whose wretched run at Bahrain continued – he’s still never made the podium at Sakhir, and was out after just two laps with a gearbox failure that shut down the car completely. “It was as if I just switched the car off, I had nothing,” he bemoaned afterwards. “Being out so early in a race is the worst feeling, especially when it’s a night race. You’re up all day waiting for those two hours, and after two minutes it’s over.” It was Ricciardo’s first DNF in Bahrain, but means that seven races at Sakhir have yielded zero pieces of silverware.

For historical purposes …
Hamilton’s third place saw his points-scoring streak extend to 27 straight races, equalling Raikkonen’s all-time record. The last time he didn’t finish inside the top 10? Malaysia 2016, when an engine blow-up arguably cost him that year’s championship.

The number to know
200: Vettel joined Hamilton (Belgium 2017), Nico Rosberg (Singapore 2016), Michael Schumacher (Europe 2004) and Jenson Button (Hungary 2011) as drivers to win on their 200th F1 start.

Under-the-radar winner(s)
Behind the big three teams (which became a big two after Verstappen’s retirement on lap five following a Turn 1 clash with Hamilton and subsequent puncture on lap two), Gasly was the star of the show at Sakhir, finishing fourth for Toro Rosso in just his seventh F1 race, while engine supplier Honda had its best result in the V6 turbo hybrid era, which would have elicited some thoughts further down the pit lane at McLaren … Kudos also to Sauber and Marcus Ericsson, the Swede finishing ninth for his first points in 50 races, and the team’s first points since Azerbaijan last year, when Pascal Wehrlein finished 10th.

The naughty corner
Raikkonen squandered a podium at one of his strongest circuits with his pit stop dramas, while Force India’s Sergio Perez and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley both finished well behind their teammates while spending most of the race squabbling, Hartley penalised 10 seconds at his first pit stop for turning the Mexican around at Turn 4 on the opening lap, and Perez then pipping the Kiwi at the chequered flag – for 12th. But really, this space is reserved for Red Bull – at a circuit where a podium was on the cards, having both cars out so early was gutting.

What’s next?
There’s no rest for the teams and drivers, with the first of five 2018 back-to-back Grands Prix happening in China next Sunday. Shanghai has been Mercedes territory in recent years; the Silver Arrows have won five of the past six races in China, and no other team has won the Chinese GP since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014. Put your hard-earned on Hamilton, then …

Can Daniel Ricciardo bury his Bahrain bogey?

The Red Bull racer has never stepped onto the Formula One podium in Sakhir, but there’s evidence to suggest that 2018 – finally – is the year.


It’s a stat that jumps out as a surprise. We’re well aware of Daniel Ricciardo’s superb record at a circuit like Singapore, where the Australian has been a podium staple at the Grand Prix that’s almost counts as ‘home’ given its proximity to Perth. And we (and, don’t worry, he) knows what a graveyard Brazil has been; you know things have generally gone badly when last year’s sixth place was – by some distance – his best-ever showing in Sao Paulo.

But Bahrain? Only the eighth-best circuit on Ricciardo’s CV? We’re surprised too, but this – surely – is the year that all changes. The Sakhir circuit is one the Red Bull F1 racer likes and has done well at, but not one he’s done so well at that he’s packed a trophy in his luggage when he leaves Manama each year.

He couldn’t have come closer, mind you; with a recent form line that reads fourth (2014), sixth (2015), fourth (2016) and fifth (last year), there’s a logical number in the sequence that’s begging to be added this Sunday in the second F1 race of 2018.

“The track is one that I’ve always done well on, so let’s hope it continues to be good to me,” he says.

“It’s actually quite a tricky event as the practice sessions are in the heat of the day but the important sessions, qualifying and the race, are in the evening when the track cools so you have to be very adaptive with the set-up. Normally if you’re quick you don’t want to touch the car, but in Bahrain you’re forced to as the conditions change so much in the evenings.”

Sakhir was the site of a significant moment in Ricciardo’s career; back in 2012, his first full year in the sport and at the fourth race of that season, he stunned the paddock with a run to sixth in qualifying for Toro Rosso in a car that had no business being in the top 10. The start of the race 24 hours later, where he later admitted to being too timid in wheel-to-wheel battles with his rivals and plummeted out of the top 10 to eventually finish 15th, taught him a lesson that he’s never forgotten, and in many ways was the turning point into making the Australian one of the most respected and decisive overtakers in the sport in the ensuing years.

If Ricciardo is to banish his Bahrain bogey this Sunday, it’ll leave the season bookends of (sadly) Australia and Abu Dhabi, along with Italy and the afore-mentioned kryptonite of Brazil, as the only races where he’s never made the top three in seven attempts.

Slim pickings: where Ricciardo struggles

Grand Prix Races Podiums Best finish Avg pts/race
Brazil 7 0 6th 1.9
Abu Dhabi 7 0 4th 4.4
Australia 7 0 4th (x2) 4.9
Japan 7 1 3rd 5.1
USA 6 2 3rd (x2) 5.2

We’re only including races that have been on the calendar for the entirety of Ricciardo’s career, which excludes ones he’s done well at like Azerbaijan (31 points in two races, 25 of them coming when he won in Baku last year) and, equally, ones where things have been a bit rubbish, like Russia (six points in four races).

For the record, Ricciardo’s two strongest circuits are street circuits – even though he’s yet to win at either of them …

Piling up the points: where Ricciardo shines

Grand Prix Races Podiums Best finish Avg pts/race
Singapore 7 4 2nd (x3) 10.1
Monaco 6 3 2nd 9.7
Hungary 6 3 1st 9.2
Belgium 7 3 1st 8.7
Spain 6 2 3rd (x2) 7.8

But back to Bahrain. If Ricciardo is to earn his 28th career podium this weekend, he’ll have to defy the trend of this Grand Prix since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid era in 2014, which coincided with his arrival at Red Bull Racing and the end of the team’s Sebastian Vettel-dominated reign.

For the past four years, only Force India’s Sergio Perez (third in 2014) has been able to break the Mercedes-Ferrari stronghold on the desert podium, and both Mercedes drivers have made the rostrum in all four years (although just once, four years ago, have they managed a 1-2 finish).

Rested and refreshed after a manic week in Melbourne where he was pulled in every direction imaginable from one commitment to the next, Ricciardo is ready to roll.

“Bahrain is great,” he says.

“The weather is warm, the paddock is modern, the hotel is amazing and it’s a really nice week that I enjoy after such a busy home race in Australia.”

He’ll be hoping – for once – that it’s a week that ends in silverware.

Ricciardo did it all, but podium is still elusive


Daniel Ricciardo was due some Australian Grand Prix luck. Four years ago, the Australian finished a remarkable second on his debut for Red Bull Racing, only to be disqualified after the race when his car was deemed to have breached the sport’s fuel-flow regulations. Until Sunday, his fortunes hadn’t improved much since.

Last year, his car broke down before it even got to the starting grid, while in Friday practice for the 2018 season-opener, he was penalised three grid positions after failing to slow down sufficiently when the circuit was under red flag conditions.

While Sunday’s fourth place fell just short of the 28-year-old becoming the first Australian driver to finish on the podium at his home Grand Prix, Ricciardo was buoyed by the speed of his car after a troubled weekend when he could never match the pace of teammate Max Verstappen until race day, and happy that his poor fortune in his home race took a back seat.

Ricciardo started from eighth on the grid, but benefitted from the retirements of Haas drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean, who went no further after their pit stops on lap 22 and 24 respectively after the American team failed to affix tyres correctly to their cars.

Ricciardo had been bottled up behind the Haas pair for the opening stint of the race, and with a safety car deployed to remove Grosjean’s smouldering car from the circuit, pitted for tyres and emerged in the wheeltracks of third-place Kimi Raikkonen, a podium place in his home race tantalisingly within reach.

Ricciardo attacked the Finn relentlessly in the final stages, setting the fastest lap of the race (1min 25.945secs) on lap 54 of 58, but the Ferrari driver didn’t blink, Ricciardo finishing seven-tenths of a second shy of a podium visit that looked to be a pipedream after his Friday penalty.

“It was good – we were fast at the end,” he said.

“I obviously tried to do all I could with Kimi, but it’s a tight track and tricky to overtake. But we set the fastest lap, so really good signs of things to come in the next few weeks.

“We’re very close to Ferrari’s pace, and I think we were one of the quickest cars on track today. Hopefully that’s representative going forward. We’ve still got to find pace on one lap (in qualifying), but the race pace is good.”

Ricciardo’s home Grand Prix this season came against a backdrop of speculation as to where he might drive next year, the Red Bull driver’s contract expiring at the conclusion of the 21-race campaign. As the face of the Melbourne race, he looked harried after a non-stop schedule of promotional appearances on Wednesday, sounded hoarse after a media onslaught on Thursday, and was enraged by his penalty on Friday, his team principal Christian Horner admitting that he’d never seen his typically affable driver so incensed.

That fury had barely subsided after qualifying on Saturday, and while he was pleased to get his 2018 season off the mark, the “bitter” taste from his grid penalty left him wondering what might have been.

“I was always going to leave here happy today just to race, just to get that first one over,” Ricciardo said

“It’s been a long time coming, and I feel the lead-up to that first race is so dragged out that it’s hard to try to enjoy the week leading up to it.

“I could see and touch (the podium) today and I tried to make something happen, but in the end … it would have been nice to have started further up the front.”

Vettel exploits Mercedes miscalculation


Once again, Lewis Hamilton was Formula One’s fastest man in Melbourne. But once again, Mercedes’ four-time world champion saw an Australian Grand Prix win slip through his fingers, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel riding his luck and making the most of a Mercedes miscalculation to take a second successive win at Albert Park on Sunday.

Hamilton had set the fastest lap in Melbourne’s 23-year F1 history in qualifying on Saturday and led for the first half of Sunday’s race, but a mid-race safety car – and quick thinking by Ferrari – saw his run of Australian outs continue.

The Briton has been on pole five years in a row for the season-opening race, but only once in that period, in 2015, has he converted Saturday speed into Sunday silverware, as Vettel won for the third time in Australia.

On pole by a whopping six-tenths of a second after his record lap in qualifying, Hamilton had the 58-lap race under control until it was turned upside down on lap 26, when a virtual safety car period was called to retrieve the stricken Haas of French driver Romain Grosjean, which had been released from its pit stop with a wheel incorrectly affixed and crawled to a halt at the exit of turn two.

The virtual safety car mandates drivers lap the track at a much slower mandatory speed, but that speed restriction doesn’t apply to the pit lane. With Mercedes miscalculating the pace Hamilton could carry under safety car conditions, Ferrari pounced.

Vettel, who had yet to make his tyre stop after running in third in the early laps, leapt into pit lane, changed tyres and was on his way before Hamilton traversed the start-finish straight.

Try as he might, the Briton couldn’t peg the gap to the Ferrari driver, running wide at turn nine with 11 laps to go and allowing Vettel the breathing space to escape to a five-second win.

“We got a bit lucky with the safety car,” Vettel admitted after his 100th F1 podium finish.

“My start didn’t really work, I lost my connection to Lewis and Kimi (Raikkonen). I was struggling with my tyres, I was praying for a safety car.”

Hamilton was crestfallen after the result, the Briton lingering in his car after returning to the pits, coming to terms with a familiar feeling of Australian déjà vu.

“We have to go back to the drawing board,” he said.

“We had pace, but it’s so hard to overtake here.”

Vettel’s teammate Raikkonen, who had started alongside Hamilton on the front row of the grid, rounded out the podium, the Finnish veteran narrowly repelling the Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo, who missed out by seven-tenths of a second from becoming the first home driver to stand on the Australian Grand Prix rostrum.

Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen, who had the measure of the Australian in every on-track session before Sunday’s race, finished behind McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in sixth place, the Dutchman damaging his car when he spun wildly at the first corner on lap 10 and dropped three places. He finished 21 seconds behind Ricciardo after looking set to challenge for the podium all weekend.

Penalised three grid places for a red flag infringement on Friday, Ricciardo started from eighth and made little headway in the early stages. Like Vettel, he was a beneficiary of pitting under safety car conditions, Grosjean’s retirement coming after teammate Kevin Magnussen suffered the same fate after his own pit stop, the third-year American team throwing away a significant haul of points after showing impressive speed all weekend.

With Raikkonen in his sights, Ricciardo vowed to “not let him breathe” as he closed in on the 2007 world champion in the final laps, and despite setting the fastest lap of the race with five laps remaining, he had to be content with matching his fourth place from two years ago for his best result at his home race.

Fifth was a significant result for Alonso and McLaren in its first race with Renault power after a disastrous three-year association with Honda engines, while Nico Hulkenberg (Renault), Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, the second McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne and Hulkenberg’s teammate Carlos Sainz rounded out the top 10, Sainz struggling with nausea in the closing stages.

What happened at the Australian Grand Prix?

Ferrari gets fortunate, Mercedes makes a mess and Ricciardo nearly nabs that elusive podium – here’s what you need to know about what went down in Melbourne.


The build-up

Mercedes looked to have been saving something in reserve for the opening race of the season after pre-season testing; the only question was how much? Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton answered that emphatically in qualifying by taking pole with the fastest-ever lap around Albert Park (1min 21.164secs), which showed the gains the team has made in 12 months – he smashed his own circuit benchmark from last year by over a second. Ferrari duo Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel were next, but their deficit to the front (six-tenths of a second) was sobering. Max Verstappen (fourth) was the best of the Red Bulls, local hero Daniel Ricciardo copping a three-place grid penalty for failing to slow down sufficiently under red flags in Friday practice (a sanction he summed up as “shithouse”) that turned his fifth in qualifying into an eighth-place start. His predicament was at least better than Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas, who shunted heavily in qualifying and had to start from the back.

The race in exactly 69 words*

Hamilton had the race under control after bolting from pole, but a mid-race virtual safety car to retrieve the stricken Haas of Romain Grosjean sent his afternoon awry. Vettel made his sole pit stop and emerged ahead of the Briton, Mercedes admitting afterwards it has miscalculated how fast its driver could lap under VSC conditions. The Ferrari held sway to the flag, while teammate Raikkonen rounded out the podium.

(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)

What the result means

For the second straight season, Hamilton dominated Albert Park until it really mattered, the four-time world champion’s mastery of Melbourne not reflected in his result. Vettel’s second consecutive success in Australia owed itself to cunning strategy and a smattering of luck, but nobody left the circuit on Sunday night under any illusions as to who has the fastest car on the grid. Given the opportunity to pounce, Vettel grabbed it and didn’t dare let go.

Ricciardo recap

The Australian was seven-tenths of a second behind Raikkonen at the finish for a fourth-place result, one which saw him – ever so narrowly – fail to become the first local driver to make the podium in Melbourne. Ricciardo’s race pace was mighty as the laps ticked down – he set the fastest lap overall with five laps remaining – and while 12 points to kick-start 2018 were nice, he couldn’t help but think of the penalty that so incensed him on Friday night. “I could see and touch (the podium) today and I tried to make something happen,” he said. “But in the end, it would have been nice to have started further up the front …”

For historical purposes …

Hamilton’s seventh Australian pole was a record, eclipsing the previous marker held by his childhood idol, Ayrton Senna. That was the good; what wasn’t was that five poles in as many years in Melbourne have produced just one win, back in 2015.

The number to know

12: the points scored by McLaren duo Fernando Alonso (fifth) and Stoffel Vandoorne (ninth), more than the team scored in any single Grand Prix for all of last year. Related: Melbourne was McLaren’s first race in its new alignment with Renault, its troubled three-year association with Honda engines coming to a conclusion in Abu Dhabi last season.

Under-the-radar winner(s)

Vettel was the big winner at the sharp end of the field, and McLaren’s season couldn’t have begun much better, especially when you consider both cars qualified outside of the top 10. A double-points finish for Renault duo Nico Hulkenberg and Carlos Sainz deserves praise too, especially as the latter struggled late in the race with nausea after the water pump in his car failed in the opening 15 laps.

The naughty corner

Eighth for Bottas in a car that had race-winning speed capped off a difficult weekend where he looked nowhere near Hamilton’s pace and was ragged to boot, while Toro Rosso’s start to life with Honda was a rough one, Brendon Hartley finishing 15th and last of the classified runners, and teammate Pierre Gasly retiring with – cough – an engine problem 13 laps in. But the biggest losers – given what they lost – in Melbourne were Haas, with Grosjean and teammate Kevin Magnussen both running in the top five on merit before both retired soon after their pit stops with wheels not attached correctly. A significant haul of points went begging, and the team was fined $10,000 for the pair of unsafe pit releases. Ouch, and double-ouch.

What’s next?

While the pre-season guesswork about Formula One’s pecking order now has some substance, we wait for the next two rounds, a back-to-back set in Bahrain (April 8) and China (April 15). Vettel took the honours at Sakhir last year, while Shanghai has been Mercedes territory, Hamilton winning there three years out of the past four, and a record five times in all.

The driving force behind Daniel Ricciardo


Daniel Ricciardo had no intention of talking about it. ‘It’ was an enormous tattoo that took up the entirety of his right thigh, a long-considered piece of personal artwork he’d had done in October 2013. It was something the Australian Formula One racer wanted to keep to himself – which, in a sport where little stays secret for long, he’d miraculously managed for the best part of a year.

A sultry Suzuka evening at the 2014 Japanese Grand Prix blew his cover. Long after most of the inhabitants of the F1 paddock had cleared out for the night, a relaxed Ricciardo sat – in shorts – chatting after a run of the track. Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner had stayed late at the circuit for a meeting, saw his driver, and did a double-take. “How long has that been there?” enquired Horner, astonished to learn that Ricciardo had spent 12 months sweltering in long pants in public to keep his artwork private as the F1 circus criss-crossed the globe.

Ricciardo was a three-time Formula One race-winner by then, his brilliant first season at Red Bull overshadowing the results of teammate and reigning four-time champion Sebastian Vettel as the Australian made the leap from promising prospect to bona fide F1 star. But discussing the plotting of his life’s path in permanency on his body was, then, harder than taking on and beating the world’s best drivers.

“Back in 2013, when I got the tattoo done before the Indian Grand Prix that year, I was driving for Toro Rosso and still making a name for myself in F1,” he remembers.

“I just didn’t want people talking about it, ‘he thinks he’s cool now’ and all of that. I wanted to keep it private. It was about me and for me, nobody else.”

The design was complex, elaborate and a reflection of Ricciardo’s state of mind at the time, as he came to terms with what being a top-line F1 driver really meant. A tall ship, signifying the journey the one-time “reluctant traveller” he’d taken to traverse the world after venturing to Europe by himself soon after finishing school. A lighthouse, “so I’m always close to home”. A bird, taking flight to see the world from new horizons. And the two phrases he lived his life by: ‘No Regrets’ because he never wanted his F1 career to have any, ‘Only Memories’ inspired by a favourite song by British hardcore band Heart in Hand.

“I’m a Perth boy, and my heart was still close to home; I didn’t want to forget where I’d come from, but I wanted to make the most of the journey,” he says now.

“I’d left home and sacrificed a bit, so I wanted to do it properly, with no regrets and take away a lot of memories of the travel. That was the time I was starting to see more of the world and actually appreciate what it is, and how I fit into it.”

Now, Ricciardo laughs at the thought of his considered concealment – “even though it was only four years ago, there weren’t many tattoos in our sport back then,” he shrugs. While his ink-adding days are “probably done”, the next steps of the 28-year-old’s journey, short, medium and long-term, will see him in the headlines for much of this year as F1 embarks on a 21-race campaign, the longest season in the sport’s history. It’s a season that shapes as the most crucial of his career to date.

On the immediate horizon is Sunday’s season-opener at Albert Park, a circuit that has been a graveyard for Australians striving for success in their own backyard. Ricciardo’s compatriot and predecessor at Red Bull Racing, Mark Webber, never unlocked the secret to conquering his home race; in a 215-race career, Melbourne was the only Grand Prix that featured for Webber’s entire 12-year F1 tenure where he never made the podium.

For Ricciardo, who makes his 130th F1 start on Sunday, Melbourne hasn’t been much better. Only Brazil (just 13 points in seven appearances) has produced a worse record than Australia (22 points in six), while his one moment in the sun, when he crossed the line second on his Red Bull debut back in 2014, was scuppered by his car being excluded for breaching the sport’s fuel flow regulations, a crestfallen Ricciardo having to hand back the second-place trophy he’d hoisted in front of a delirious crowd only hours earlier.

No Australian has ever made their home podium in 33 races between Adelaide and Albert Park. If Ricciardo is to buck that trend this weekend, he’ll likely need to repel the Ferrari of former teammate Vettel, keep pace with the all-conquering Mercedes of four-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, and combat the rising tide of Dutch teammate Max Verstappen, the sport’s most exciting youngster at age 20 and the first F1 teammate who has matched – and beaten – Ricciardo on pace in equal equipment.

While Ricciardo has outscored Verstappen in the two seasons they’ve been together at Red Bull, the Dutchman out-qualified Ricciardo 13-7 in the 20 races last year, his searing one-lap speed seeing the Australian regularly sport an atypically furrowed brow on Saturdays, and starting behind him for the Grands Prix on Sundays.

Verstappen is eight years younger than Ricciardo and, last year, re-signed with Red Bull until the end of the 2020 season. It was a long-term commitment to a racer barely out of his teens that put pressure on Ricciardo, out of contract at season’s end, to raise his game to combat a driver seen as a generational talent the likes of which F1 hasn’t seen since Hamilton and Vettel debuted a decade ago.

Employing a longer lens, Verstappen’s ascension and potential, and Ricciardo’s pending free agency, has given rise to talk of a move away from Red Bull, the company that provided a financial pathway to F1 in order to make his world championship dream a reality. Before the cars had turned a wheel at Albert Park this week, Ricciardo’s voice was almost shot, a result of countless interviews answering “5000 questions” about his future, and he was relieved to strap himself into Red Bull’s RB14 machine for practice on Friday, “because it’s hard to ask me too much in there”.

The Australian won’t be lacking for options for 2019 and beyond, but the clock is ticking. On Friday, Horner said Red Bull “want to continue with him”, but added “the door is open, but it won’t stay open forever”.

If not Red Bull, where could Ricciardo go? The potential for him to become the first Australian to drive in F1 for Ferrari is a possibility, with Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen turning 39 in October and not having won a race for five years, his lack of contribution contributing to Ferrari enduring a constructors’ championship drought that stretches a decade. Vettel fuelled the fire in the Albert Park pre-race press conference when asked about a reprisal of his Red Bull partnership of 2014 with Ricciardo, saying “we get along (and) I wouldn’t mind if we get together again in the future, but I don’t know what his plans are.”

At Mercedes, which has won a staggering 63 of the 79 races since F1 dumped normally-aspirated V8 engines for V6 turbo hybrid power plants in 2014, Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas has been retained for 2018 after a debut season with the team last year that produced three victories, but a third-place finish in the drivers’ championship behind Vettel in a car that was demonstrably better than the Ferrari.

Bottas, like Ricciardo, is driving to confirm his F1 future in the first half of this season, and while Mercedes has promising junior drivers like Force India’s Esteban Ocon waiting in the wings, the 21-year-old Frenchman doesn’t – yet – look ready for a seat at the sport’s benchmark team after one season in the top flight in 2017.

Ricciardo is relishing his first chance to test the F1 contract waters – “I know what I want, and the performance side is more important than ticking the money box,” he said late last year – but wants to shut down chatter over his future as his 2018 season takes its first fledgling steps this weekend. The early races of the season, from Sunday in Melbourne onwards, will paint a clearer picture.

“I’m going to put all those talks on hold for a while,” he says, acknowledging that will do little to quell the speculation about what’s next.

“Having the chance to be able to fight for something really meaningful – races, championships – that’s the absolute priority.”

Wherever Ricciardo lands – and there are compelling arguments for him to return to Melbourne in 12 months’ time in any one of the sport’s three standout teams – it’ll be much harder to keep a secret this time. From Horner or anyone else.