RICCIARDO REAPS HIS REWARD
A brave strategic call and some beautiful driving enabled Red Bull to snatch victory from Merc
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 qualied 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.