Just when it looked like the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship season was going to be all about the resurgence of Ferrari, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo pulled a masterful drive out of the bag to win an exciting Chinese Grand Prix.
The Australian’s prospects for the weekend looked dead and buried by early Saturday afternoon when his RB14 suffered a spectacular turbo failure in FP3. Heroics from his mechanics got his repaired car into qualifying, while sheer talent got the five-time Grand Prix winner into Q3 and a sixth-placed position on the grid.
A combination of lucky Safety Car timing, canny strategy and some eye-watering overtaking maneuvers did the rest, with fans around the world able to celebrate a truly popular victory and a genuinely open fight for the Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championship battles.
Pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel looked to be in the pound seats until he was jumped at the pit stop cycle by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who looked a strong prospect to claim the win at his 100th Grand Prix start.
But the race turned on its head when the two Toro Rossos of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley clumsily collided at the hairpin, resulting in the Safety Car being deployed to clean up the mess.
The timing of the Safety Car call was seconds too late for Bottas and Vettel, but perfect for Red Bull Racing, which called both Max Verstappen and Ricciardo into the pits to make a second pit stop for fresh tyres. It was a case of high profit for little cost, helped further by Mercedes’ rather inexplicable decision not to pit Lewis Hamilton, who was running between the two Red Bulls at the time.
With abundantly more grip than those ahead of them, Verstappen and Ricciardo looked to slice their way up the field and into a potential 1-2 finish few would have predicted midway through this weekend.
Verstappen – having successfully forced an apology out of Hamilton for their collision in Bahrain for which the Englishman was not to blame – showed next to no lessons had been learned from a week ago with a rather too forceful drive. He ran onto the marbles trying to overtake Hamilton and in turn off the circuit, which allowed Ricciardo to slip by.
As Ricciardo moved by Hamilton, Kimi Räikkönen, Vettel and then Bottas with a succession of blinding passing attempts to move into the lead on Lap 45, Verstappen’s race fell apart with a clumsy hit on Vettel at the hairpin that spun the championship leader down the order and rightly earned him a 10-second time penalty to be added post-race.
Ricciardo would celebrate his sixth Grand Prix win, elated and similarly in disbelief that he and the team had turned their fortunes around in such dramatic style. Bottas and Räikkönen completed the podium, while Hamilton crossed the line in fifth behind Verstappen and was subsequently promoted to fourth thanks to the youngster’s penalty.
Vettel’s spin and lack of tyre grip meant he finished eighth behind Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and McLaren’s Fernando Alonso, meaning his 17-point lead over Hamilton was cut to 9 points as the fourth Grand Prix of the season beckons in two weeks’ time in Azerbaijan.
Carlos Sainz Jr. claimed ninth place in the second Renault to move the Enstone outfit within three points of fourth-placed McLaren, while Haas’ Kevin Magnussen claimed the final point with tenth.
|FORMULA 1 2018 HEINEKEN CHINESE GRAND PRIX – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (56 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||56||1:35:36.380|
|2.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||56||+ 8.894|
|3.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||56||+ 9.637|
|4.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||56||+ 16.985|
|5.||Max Verstappen*||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||56||+ 20.436|
|6.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||56||+ 21.052|
|7.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||56||+ 30.639|
|8.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||56||+ 35.286|
|9.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||56||+ 35.763|
|10.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||56||+ 39.594|
|11.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||56||+ 44.050|
|12.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||56||+ 44.725|
|13.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||56||+ 49.373|
|14.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||56||+ 55.490|
|15.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||56||+ 58.241|
|16.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||56||+ 1:02.604|
|17.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||56||+ 1:05.296|
|18.||Pierre Gasly*||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||56||+ 1:06.330|
|19.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||56||+ 1:22.575|
|20.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||51||Gearbox|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||55||1:35.785|
Max Verstappen – who was provisionally classified 4th – was handed a 10-second post-race time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Sebastian Vettel.
Pierre Gasly – who was provisionally classified 15th – was handed a 10-second post-race time penalty for causing an avoidable collision with Brendon Hartley.
Image via Aston Martin Red Bull Racing