Quick think­ing en­abled Red Bull to mug Fer­rari and Mercedes for vic­tory in Shang­hai, but Max Ver­stap­pen man­aged to spin his shot away…


The Shang­hai crowd cheered with de­light as the vic­to­ri­ous Daniel Ric­cia­rdo held his soggy boot aloft and took great joy in swig­ging the sweet taste of his race-win­ning cham­pagne.

In con­trast the two Finns ei­ther side of him, Valt­teri Bot­tas and Kimi Räikkö­nen, looked glum. Eye­ing Ric­cia­rdo’s boot with sus­pi­cion, they reached for their cham­pagne bot­tles and drowned their sor­rows be­fore spray­ing the fizz.

Ric­cia­rdo handed his ‘shoey’ to his num­ber one me­chanic Chris Gent, who also savoured the spoils. His ap­pear­ance on the podium was an ac­knowl­edge­ment of the bril­liant work the Red Bull me­chan­ics had done in en­abling Ric­cia­rdo to qual­ify in the first place – and then ex­e­cut­ing two rapid-fire pit­stops that helped win the race.


Through­out Fri­day prac­tice, the long-run pace of the Fer­rari, Mercedes and Red Bull was so close that it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to tell who had the ad­van­tage. But one thing was clear: the qual­i­fy­ing sim­u­la­tions of the two Fer­raris were clearly faster, so it was no sur­prise they locked out the front-row of the grid on Satur­day.

Räikkö­nen lit up the tim­ing screens on his fi­nal run in Q3, set­ting ‘pur­ple’ times in both the first and sec­ond sec­tors. Pole po­si­tion was surely his. But team-mate Vet­tel was faster down the back straight and aced the fi­nal few cor­ners of the Shang­hai lap to snatch pole po­si­tion. It was likened to a ten­nis cham­pion who, when faced with a break point, vol­leys back to serve the win­ner.

Be­hind the Fer­raris and Mercedes (Bot­tas ahead of Lewis Hamil­ton) came the two Red Bulls of Max Ver­stap­pen and Ric­cia­rdo. For the lat­ter, it was touch and go whether he would make it at all.

Af­ter a turbo fail­ure in pracice, the Red Bull crew scram­bled to fit a new power unit, com­plet­ing the job with just four min­utes and 40 sec­onds of Q1 re­main­ing. Ric­cia­rdo left the garage knowing he would have just one fly­ing lap to avoid elim­i­na­tion, em­bark­ing upon it with a minute left on the clock.

“Daniel was pretty calm,” said his race en­gi­neer Si­mon Ren­nie. “I’d told him to men­tally pre­pare for the pos­si­bil­ity that he might only get one shot at it. He was ready though: very calm and pre­pared to de­liver when it mat­tered. That said, he was ob­vi­ously keen to get on with it be­cause he had a mas­sive drift com­ing out of the garage.”


If Ric­cia­rdo was ap­pre­cia­tive of the hard work of his me­chan­ics on Satur­day, come race day he had his strate­gists to thank in help­ing him claim vic­tory in the Chinese Grand Prix. In the early stages of the


race, Vet­tel led from Bot­tas and Ver­stap­pen, but at the pit­stop cy­cle, Bot­tas was able to ‘un­der­cut’ Vet­tel and emerge ahead.

Fer­rari de­cided to – in ef­fect – sac­ri­fice Räikkö­nen’s race by keep­ing him out so he could back Bot­tas into the clutches of Vet­tel. But this strategic play was out-ma­noeu­vred by Red Bull when the Safety Car made a sur­prise ap­pear­ance at just over half-dis­tance.

Head­ing into the hair­pin, Pierre Gasly crashed into the back of his team-mate Bren­don Hart­ley,

send­ing shards of Toro Rosso car­bon fi­bre onto the rac­ing line. The team had asked their driv­ers to swap po­si­tions at T14 and Gasly as­sumed it would be un­der brak­ing, rather than on the exit.

The de­bris called for the de­ploy­ment of the Safety Car. The lead­ers, Vet­tel and Bot­tas, had al­ready passed the pit­lane en­trance, but Red Bull were able to call both their driv­ers in – and they were just far enough apart for the crew to ser­vice both driv­ers with­out de­lay­ing Ric­cia­rdo, who was sec­ond man in. It was that speedy strategic de­ci­sion that won Red Bull the race.

“With Daniel we de­cided to go more ag­gres­sive and try a two-stop race any­way be­cause he was sixth and had the most to gain,” said RBR team boss Chris­tian Horner. “The guys had al­ready done a phe­nom­e­nal job in do­ing a dou­ble stack at the first stop and when the Safety Car came out we said, ‘right, let’s do it again.’

“Max was fur­ther up the road than Daniel, but we got them both in, turned around and none of the lead­ing pack elected to do that. So we were on the bet­ter tyre for the last 23 laps of the grand prix com­pared with the guys who had done about 13 laps on theirs. That en­abled us at the restart to get into them pretty quickly.”

At this stage it was Ver­stap­pen who had the best shot at the win, but when he came up to try to over­take Hamil­ton – around the out­side of Turn 7 – he ran out of road and that’s when Ric­cia­rdo passed his team-mate. Later Max hit Vet­tel, earn­ing a ten-sec­ond time penalty.

There were no such dra­mas for Ric­cia­rdo. He fought his way past Räikkö­nen, Hamil­ton, Vet­tel and race leader Bot­tas to se­cure the win. He did so with his trade­mark late-brak­ing (and clean) over­takes. It was a thor­oughly de­served and su­perbly ex­e­cuted win, a per­fect ex­am­ple of max­imis­ing ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.

Ric­cardo couldn’t hide his de­light. He was asked af­ter the race what his re­ac­tion would have been if some­one had told him in win­ter test­ing he would win a race be­fore Mercedes this year. His re­sponse: “Holy tes­ti­cle Tues­day!”

Ric­cia­rdo was sur­gi­cally pre­cise pass­ing cars to win the race, while Ver­stap­pen flunked out – hit­ting Vet­tel and earn­ing him­self a penalty

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