Daniel Ricciardo yesterday made a string of thrilling overtaking moves to snatch a surprise Chinese Grand Prix victory after a safety car strategy gamble by his Red Bull team paid off handsomely.
The Australian, who started sixth after almost missing qualifying, made the most of fresher tires to finish 8.8 seconds ahead of Valtteri Bottas in a Mercedes.
“I don’t seem to win boring races,” he grinned from the podium before chugging the champagne from his racing boot in a trademark “shoey.”
Kimi Raikkonen took third place for Ferrari, but title contenders Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both endured trying afternoons, the four-time world champions ending fourth and eighth respectively.
“I was in no-man’s land today,” Hamilton said. “I had no pace.”
Vettel, who won the first two races of the season for Ferrari, saw his lead over Hamilton slashed from 17 points to nine.
The German’s race unraveled spectacularly, a collision with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen dropping him down the order after the favorite had initially made a good start from the pole and held the early lead.
Verstappen had a 10-second penalty applied post-race for causing the collision, dropping the Dutch youngster from fourth to fifth.
Ricciardo’s mechanics on Saturday had performed a minor miracle to change a blown engine after practice, getting him out just in time during the first phase of qualifying.
“Putting ourselves 24 hours ago, I thought we might be starting at the back of the grid,” the Australian said. “Today is the real reward for that work.”
Ricciardo and Verstappen were not early contenders, but the deployment of the safety car on the 32nd of 56 laps swung the race Red Bull’s way.
Bottas was in the lead at that stage ahead of Vettel, having overhauled the German during the pitstops, while Verstappen was fourth and Ricciardo sixth.
Red Bull pulled both their cars into the pits, bolting a set of fresh soft tires on each.
The advantage of fresh tires allowed Verstappen and Ricciardo to scythe through the field.
“The safety car was so unlucky for us,” Bottas said over the radio.
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