DAN DARES, MAX’S ’MARE
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
“IT WAS A THOROUGHLY DESERVED AND SUPERBLY EXECUTED WIN, A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF MAXIMISING EVERY OPPORTUNITY. AFTERWARDS RICCARDO COULDN’T HIDE HIS DELIGHT
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