Daniel Ricciardo drove his way to victory in Shanghai at the Chinese Grand Prix with impressive manoeuvres to lead by seven seconds in the final lap; while teammate Max Verstappen finished fifth following a collision with Sebastian Vettel.
Ricciardo made a series of well calculated overtakes from starting sixth on grid to pipping both Ferrari and Mercedes favourites to take, what seemed at the beginning, an unlikely win.
What began as predictable race, soon became the unpredictable as two, title favourites Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton were struggling against Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen with the Red Bulls charging their way to the front.
Lewis Hamilton needed to close the points deficit between himself and Vettel, and managed to do so but not the way either of them hoped.
A safety car was deployed to allow marshals to clear up the debris from the crash between Torro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly, which forced Hartley to retire.
The race then became wide open for teams to think tactically and drivers to maximise their overtaking opportunity.
Red Bull made a strategic advance by carrying out a double pit for both their drivers during the safety car period. Verstappen took advantage of an overtake in the pit lane and cleverly made up a place, which can be done providing two wheels are still on the track. Leaving them with fresh tyres for when the race resumed.
Surprise win for Ricciardo
A win seemed unlikely for Daniel Ricciardo throughout the weekend as he suffered engine failure in the final practice and narrowly missed posting a qualifying time. Red Bull mechanics worked against the clock to replace his engine and allow him to post a time quick enough to be in the top 10 by the end of Q3.
The race started as a Ferrari one-two with Sebastian Vettel on pole position with hopes of making it a triple win for the first three races of the season, while Kimi Raikkonen started second and finished third overall, yet in the final 10 laps seemed a likely contender for another race win.
Both Red Bull drivers were fierce and from the start and fought to gain places to make the podium and turn their team’s luck around. After on-going discussions and potential divorce proceedings with their engine manufacturer, their failure to finish in Bahrain (as Ricciardo once again suffered engine failure and Verstappen received a puncture as a result for locking with Hamilton) felt like Red Bull had a lot on their plate at this point in the season, and needed to focus on their strategy going forward. However, when Ricciardo’s engine is performing, their cars are fast and are in the best contention for winning alongside Ferrari and Mercedes.
In Bahrain, Hamilton’s memorable overtake was regarded as one of the best, hopping three places at once in one just corner. However, Ricciardo’s antics in China in picking each driver one by one is comparable to be also one of the most skilful and surprising overtakes to hop five places up to victory.
It was once again a chance for Ricciardo to prove his ability to be skilful, aggressive, and a big risk taker like team mate Vertsappen. But unlike Verstapppen, Ricciardo’s manoeuvres seem to be more calculated and have so far have paid off for him.
“Sometimes you just have to lick the stamp and send it,” Ricciardo said. “I don’t seem to win boring races. They are all pretty fun but that was unexpected.”
At the time of the safety car, Valtteri Bottas was leading from both Ferrari and Red Bull drivers. Mercedes decided to keep the drivers on worn medium-compound tyres which Hamilton didn’t fail to point out, while Red Bull pitted. Raikkonen’s race was sacrificed for his teammate Vettel, as he was the last to change his tyres, left to fend off Hamilton and Bottas while Vettel pitted.
Both Ferrari and Mercedes suffered for Red Bull having fresher tyres. Lewis Hamilton says he “didn’t have the pace” and apologised to his team on the radio, but it’s not the first time Mercedes logistics have put them in the back seat this season so far, and to be on top in the points race, they need to alter their tactics.
Should Verstappen calm down?
Verstappen went from hero to zero as he started off fifth on the grid and fought his way to the top three behind Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen with some aggressive overtaking.
After attempting an overtake of Hamilton on turn seven, the Red Bull driver went off the track and his teammate made up a place on him. But Verstappen’s luck ran out during turn 14 of lap 39 as he the misjudged the gap and caught Vettel’s wheel causing them both to spin resulting in a 10 second time penalty for Verstappen and losing a place to Fernando Alonso for Vettel.
Verstappen immediately apologised to Vettel after the race which calmed the storm, Vettel said afterwards: “I didn’t see him until late and left a bit of room. I was expecting him to come earlier. I had no intention of resisting, there was no point in doing so they were too fast. I didn’t want to compromise my race.
“He did a mistake and locked up which happens. He misjudged it and compromised both of our results.”
Had Verstappen not locked wheels he could have been the man of the race. Before his attempt at Hamilton earlier on, he was the favourite to win, and with some impressive driving on the day he could have recovered from that minor mishap and still have made it on the podium at least.
After last weekend’s crash in Bahrain causing early retirement from the race, team director Christian Horner warned Verstappen he needed to “race clean” to be in with a chance of a win in China.
After the race, the Dutchman said he was not happy with his performance: “Those moments happen in your career. Nobody wants it but unfortunately it happens.
“I will analyse everything and put that in my knowledge and have a better race [next time].”
However, all things considered the young driver started fifth on grid made it up to second, and crossed the line in fourth place ahead of Lewis Hamilton, but his lead wasn’t enough to keep him in fourth with the added penalty and dropped him down to where he started in fifth overall.
Valtteri Bottas dropped to second, seven seconds behind Ricciardo, with Kimi Raikkonen completing the podium, and Hamilton bumping up to fourth overall.