RIC­CIA­RDO REAPS HIS RE­WARD

A brave strate­gic call and some beau­ti­ful driv­ing en­abled Red Bull to snatch vic­tory from Merc

F1 Racing - - CONTENTS - by Peter Wind­sor

It didn’t come right for Daniel Ric­cia­rdo un­til Mar­cus Eric­s­son over­cor­rected a pow­er­slide on lap 8 and icked the iras­ci­ble Cater­ham into the Turn 3 tyre wall. Un­til then it had been a bit scratchy – frus­trat­ing in Q3 with the han­dling and the traf­fic, and then came that slip­pery get­away from the dirty side of the road when the lights went out. He had lost places to Fer­nando Alonso and Jen­son But­ton, and for a while in those early laps it was Nico way out in front with Bot­tas kind of head­ing the rest. Daniel’s car felt a bit un­der­steery; it was okay but it wasn’t great.

Then, thanks to old Mar­cus, Red Bull’s chief en­gi­neer Paul Mon­aghan made the pitch-per­fect call: Nico and a few oth­ers – al­ready past the pit­lane en­trance – were obliged to run round again; Daniel, who was 17.3secs be­hind Ros­berg, was able to pull straight in. The sit­u­a­tion de­manded a switch from in­ter­me­di­ates to slicks. Kenny Hand­kam­mer and the boys did the rest. The re­sult? P1.

Some of Daniel’s ma­jor op­po­si­tion thus re­shaped it­self. Wil­liams, un­sure about how many laps they could eke out of the slicks, chose the prime. Even though Massa hung onto P2 for a while, he and Bot­tas ul­ti­mately dis­ap­peared into the mid-field. Nico sunk, too, when he stopped a lap later. At the re-start, squir­relly on slicks, he would be out-fin­ger­tipped by Jean-Eric Vergne. McLaren, by con­trast, put But­ton onto an­other set of in­ter­me­di­ates. “We see rain on the radar,” they said plain­tively over the ra­dio to their wetdry mae­stro. “Don’t worry, Jen­son,” the voice con­tin­ued. “We’ll make this work.” Yeah. Right.

Lewis, mean­while, was now not too far away from breath­ing Nico’s air – which was an amaz­ing come­back, given the fuel-re that had de­stroyed his qual­i­fy­ing ses­sion. Daniel led the race into its re-start – and led it beau­ti­fully, too, if beauty in­cludes un­clut­tered lines and pa­tience over pre­cisely the cor­rect pas­sages of time. Jen­son led a lap but then re­treated to the pit­lane.

Fer­nando Alonso? Jean-Eric Vergne? Fer­nando had qualied fth, Vergne eighth – and both had been ex­quis­ite to watch in the early, treach­er­ous laps, with driv­ers like Vet­tel and Ros­berg leav­ing room on the out­side. Now they were hog­ging the lap chart; now they were eas­ing the race away from Mercedes. Un­able to re-pass Vergne, Ros­berg lost ve full sec­onds to the leader over a 15-lap spread.

Daniel called in for his sec­ond set of op­tions on lap 23, when Pérez hit the pit wall and in­duced an­other Safety Car. Now the sweat­ing be­gan, for none of Daniel’s peers took the bait (apart from Felipe Massa). Alonso was now lead­ing the race, ahead of the Vergne-Ros­berg-Vet­tel-Hamil­ton group. Daniel ap­peared be­hind them, his tyres new, his RB10 full of grip. If Ric­cia­rdo truly earned his vic­tory in Hun­gary then he earned it right now – when he laid back on the tyres, re­fus­ing to push them, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ‘manag­ing’ the en­gine.

Un­til, one by one, they also made their stops. First Merc put Nico on his sec­ond set of op­tions; he had squeezed an ad­di­tional ten laps out of that rst set (thanks to run­ning be­hind Vergne for so long) but, like Daniel, he would have to stop again. Then Fer­nando, run­ning 28 laps on that rst set of op­tions, also stopped; he would run through to the end, still on the soft tyre. Next came Lewis, putting in a full 32 laps on his rst set of op­tions but now switch­ing to primes. With Vet­tel do­ing a Pérez out of the last cor­ner (but not crunch­ing his car hard into the wall), Daniel was again in front, now lead­ing by 16 sec­onds. “How’s the bal­ance?” Daniel was asked. “The rears will be the de­cid­ing fac­tor.” And so, on lap 54 with 15 to run, in came Daniel. Taken in iso­la­tion, his three-stop tyre strat­egy was run­ning ac­cord­ing to plan. Taken in con­text, he was out-of-step with the two-stop mu­sic – or with the race that Nico was run­ning. But what if Fer­nando could win a race on only two sets of op­tions? And what if Lewis’s long run on primes would be enough not only to beat Nico but also to win the race?

Nico, to be sure, had lost time be­fore his nal stop be­hind Lewis: the team asked Lewis (who was on the harder tyre) to move over and Lewis had ig­nored them. Nico en­quired again. Noth­ing. And who could really blame Lewis? For one thing, Merc had as­sured every­one they wouldn’t be us­ing team or­ders this year; for an­other, Lewis had hauled the car up from the pit­lane and had had to sit there with Seb, ear­lier in the race, watch­ing Nico play soft­ball with Vergne. With Nico nally in the pit­lane, Lewis had made a point of pass­ing Vergne within a lap, up and over the kerbs on the out­side en­try to Turn 4, the fastest cor­ner of the cir­cuit.

The TV cam­eras fo­cused on Fer­nando ver­sus Lewis as the end ap­proached, ne­glect­ing a sump­tu­ous per­for­mance from Daniel. He drove just as he drove in that nal Bahrain pre-sea­son test, when he rst tamed the RB10. He was breath­tak­ing in his late-race chase.

He man­aged to pass Lewis on the out­side down­hill run from Turn 2. He had the grip ad­van­tage – but this was Lewis Hamil­ton he was pass­ing, not some makeweight. Lewis edged him to­wards the Hun­gar­ian hills; Daniel re­sponded with his trade­mark, rhyth­mic wrist-flick: he held the sub­tle slide with feet and ngers and the back end of the RB10 did the rest, per­fectly defin­ing the exit. Lewis de­ferred.

Fer­nando seemed to be too far ahead at the end of the main straight… but Daniel plunged on through nonethe­less. He had the grip and he knew that the out­side of the cor­ner would of­fer him some sort of room in which to play. As it hap­pened, he didn’t need it. Fer­nando didn’t turn in to him, for Fer­nando, too, has class.

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