An emotional Daniel Ricciardo has broken through to claim victory in a tense Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix, putting to rest the demons that have plagued the Red Bull Racing driver after he saw a certain victory here slip through his fingers in 2016 after a botched pit stop.
It has been a long and personal journey for the Australian to the top step of the podium. On the occasion of Red Bull Racing’s 250th Grand Prix, Ricciardo joined his countrymen Sir Jack Brabham (1959) and Mark Webber (2010 and 2012) as a Monaco Grand Prix winner, but he had to work hard to do so.
The Adrian Newey designed RB14 was always expected to do well on the narrow 3.337-kilometre street circuit where the car’s power disadvantage would be truly negated. Ricciardo entered the weekend talking up his chances of adding to his Chinese Grand Prix victory, seeking not only redemption for losing out two years ago, but also to prove that he could actually win from the front of the field.
All of his six previous Grand Prix wins had been earned starting from fourth or lower on the grid and each had come – with the notable exception of this year’s win in Shanghai – due to the misfortune of arguably quicker cars and drivers. The Perth-born driver is acclaimed as one of the best racers in the field, but he equally needed to prove that he could dominate from the off.
Ricciardo started his weekend as he meant to finish it. Not since last year’s United States Grand Prix won by Lewis Hamilton has a driver been quickest in every practice and qualifying session, and then led every lap of the race to claim victory.
On Saturday afternoon he scorched the opposition by becoming the first ever driver to lap the circuit in under 71 seconds. He was a clear favourite to win the 78-lap race, provided he could make a good start, there were no pit stop fumbles and his car could hold together.
His first task was achieved as the lights went out, holding off Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari on the short run to Sainte-Dévote to lead the 20-car field.
He paced himself through the early laps, extending the life of the high-wearing Hypersoft tyres before pitting to cover the early-stopping Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. The tyre change was completed without a hitch, completing the second critical task.
Only an error or mechanical issue could deny him from here, and while the race was largely processional it would not be without drama.
On Lap 28, Ricciardo felt a sudden loss of power – his MGU-K was showing problems. He couldn’t use seventh or eighth gear and had to wind the brake balance forward to stop his rear brakes from overheating.
With a near 200bhp loss of power, this would be game over at almost any other circuit. But Monaco is so narrow and near-impossible to overtake. Ricciardo ran a tactical race thereon, nursing his car around every lap, harvesting as much energy for his battery as he could and carefully placing the RB14 at each apex to counter a possible attack from Vettel.
The remaining 50 laps were a flawless display of car control and mechanical sympathy, later compared by Red Bull Racing team principal to Michael Schumacher’s incredible drive to second place at the 1994 Spanish Grand Prix with his Benetton stuck in fifth gear.
A late Virtual Safety Car – brought out by a heavy collision between Charles Leclerc and Brendon Hartley at the Nouvelle Chicane when the former’s brakes failed on his Sauber – provided some respite. Vettel was unable to get temperature back into his tyres to have one last roll of the dice in the final laps to the chequered flag, slipping back to finish over seven seconds behind.
Incredulity, elation and exhaustion were etched across Ricciardo’s face when he pulled up on the start/finish straight at the end of his cool-down lap to receive the plaudits of his team and the Monegasque royal family. When the champagne was uncorked he managed to convince the RB14’s architect, Adrian Newey, to partake in the customary ‘shoey’ – victory has perhaps never tasted sweeter, or sweatier.
Vettel could do little to really challenge Ricciardo, crossing the line in second place ahead of Hamilton to take three potentially important points out of the Englishman’s lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings. Heading into the Canadian Grand Prix in a fortnight’s time, the duo is separated by 14 points.
Also struggling to rewarm his tyres, Hamilton fell back into the clutches of the two Finns, Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen and Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas, who ran nose-to-tail for the entire race.
Rapidly closing on them was Force India’s Esteban Ocon, whose VJM11 was rapid in the final laps. The Frenchman was closing at over a second a lap, dragging Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, Renault’s Nico Hülkenberg and the second Red Bull of Max Verstappen along with him.
Verstappen was the only driver who proved that overtaking is indeed possible at Monte Carlo. His clumsy crash in final practice saw him miss qualifying and the chance to join Ricciardo on the front row and potentially cement a 1-2 finish for the team.
His run to ninth place – which featured nifty passes on several midfield runners – was the kind of controlled aggression that has been sorely lacking from the Dutchman’s repertoire this season. He will hopefully walk away from Monaco and apply the hard lessons this weekend will have taught him.
Tenth and the final point went to Carlos Sainz Jr. in the second Renault, who pitted early in the race and had his tyres fall away in the final twenty laps of the race. The Spaniard did well to hold off Marcus Ericsson’s fast-closing Sauber in the final laps.
Three teams – McLaren, Haas and particularly Williams – had weekends to forget.
McLaren should have featured in the midfield points battle with the Renaults and Force Indias. Stoffel Vandoorne lost ground by running too long on his opening stint, slipping to a lapped fourteenth after making a second late visit to the pits. Teammate Fernando Alonso retired on Lap 53 with a boxful of neutrals and later declared the race “the most boring” of his career – doubtless his sentiments might have been different had his car held together…
Having shown an impressive turn of speed at much quicker circuits, the Haas Ferrari VF-18 never looked happy around the Circuit de Monaco. With limited development for this weekend and equally limited spare parts, the American team’s duo of Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were mere extras in the show. Onwards to Canada, they unilaterally declared.
As for Williams, their struggles continued. The demonstration run made by 1982 World Champion Keke Rosberg in the Cosworth-powered FW08 that took him to the title were, many remarked, a reminder of just how far the Grove team has fallen. Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll were the last two runners to see the chequered flag.
Sirotkin had outperformed the FW41’s capabilities to qualify midfield, but the team threw away the Russian’s shot at his first points’ finish by failing to put the car’s wheels on before the three-minute mark ahead of the race.
That earned him a 10-second stop-go penalty which sent him to the back of the field where he joined teammate Lance Stroll. The Canadian suffered a slow puncture after early contact with Ericsson’s Sauber and lost a lap trying to recover to the pits. A second puncture simply compounded his misery, prompting the Canadian to ask why they were bothering circulate at the back. Why indeed…
|FORMULA 1 GRAND PRIX DE MONACO 2018 – FINAL CLASSIFICATION (78 LAPS)|
|Driver||Team / Entry||Laps||Result|
|1.||Daniel Ricciardo||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||78||1:42:54.807|
|2.||Sebastian Vettel||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||78||+ 7.336|
|3.||Lewis Hamilton||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||78||+ 17.013|
|4.||Kimi Räikkönen||Scuderia Ferrari SF71H||78||+ 18.127|
|5.||Valtteri Bottas||Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport F1W09||78||+ 18.822|
|6.||Esteban Ocon||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||78||+ 23.667|
|7.||Pierre Gasly||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||78||+ 24.331|
|8.||Nico Hülkenberg||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||78||+ 24.839|
|9.||Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||78||+ 25.317|
|10.||Carlos Sainz Jr||Renault Sport F1 Team RS18||78||+ 1:09.013|
|11.||Marcus Ericsson||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||78||+ 1:09.864|
|12.||Sergio Pérez||Force India F1 Team Mercedes VJM11||78||+ 1:10.461|
|13.||Kevin Magnussen||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||78||+ 1:14.823|
|14.||Stoffel Vandoorne||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||77||1 lap behind|
|15.||Romain Grosjean||Haas F1 Team Ferrari VF-18||77||1 lap behind|
|16.||Sergey Sirotkin||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||77||1 lap behind|
|17.||Lance Stroll||Williams Martini Racing Mercedes FW41||76||2 laps behind|
|18.||Charles Leclerc||Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team Ferrari C37||70||Collision|
|19.||Brendon Hartley||Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda STR13||70||Collision|
|Not Classified||Team / Entry||Laps|
|DNF.||Fernando Alonso||McLaren F1 Team Renault MCL33||52||Gearbox|
|Fastest Lap||Team / Entry||Lap||Time|
|Max Verstappen||Aston Martin Red Bull Racing TAG Heuer RB14||60||1:14.260|
Image via Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Team, Force India F1 Team and Scuderia Ferrari