Red Bull gamble allows Ricciardo to win Chinese GP
A Red Bull strategy gamble worked to perfection for Daniel Ricciardo and propelled him to victory in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix as the Australian Formula 1 driver charged from sixth place with 20 laps to go to grab the race win.
Red Bull rolled the dice on a mid-race Safety Car and pitting both drivers for a second time to give them fresher tires than the rival Mercedes and Ferrari drivers.
It was a decision that would cost early leaders Valtteri Bottas and Sebastian Vettel their chance to win, with a spectacular charge from Ricciardo allowing him to take victory for Red Bull.
With 12 laps to go, Ricciardo made a bold move on Bottas heading into Turn 6, forcing the Mercedes driver to yield the lead.
Ricciardo crossed the line 8.8 seconds clear to record his sixth F1 race win.
The opening stint of the Chinese Grand Prix was largely free of drama, with Vettel on course for his third win in as many races this season. But it exploded into life when Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly went from hero to zero.
He committed F1’s cardinal sin by crashing into team mate Brendon Hartley at the hairpin on Lap 30 of the 56, scattering debris across the track.
The safety car was called into action and Red Bull responded, pulling both Max Verstappen and Ricciardo into the pits from third and fifth respectively and fitting them with soft tires.
They may have lost a place apiece, but when the safety car was recalled, their pace advantage over the Ferraris of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes’ Bottas and Lewis Hamilton became clear.
Verstappen, ahead on the road, was best-placed to make the most of the turn of events, but he ran off track when trying an unrealistic move on Hamilton and then got it all wrong when he hit Vettel at the hairpin while trying to recover.
His team mate Ricciardo made no mistake, however, showing him how it was done. He launched one of his trademark attacks from way back, to dive down the inside of Hamilton at the hairpin. He then picked of Vettel easily and then seized the lead from Bottas with a similarly bold move.
The Australian than powered off into the distance to secure his first victory since last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with Bottas second for the second successive race.
It was still an impressive performance by Bottas, who made up for a lack of attack in Bahrain with a decisive move on Raikkonen for the lead. Had the safety car not been called, or had Bottas pitted at the same time as the Red Bulls, he would have likely have won.
Raikkonen took third – a reward for a strong opening phase, which actually resulted in him falling back, and seemingly being hung out to dry by Ferrari as they appeared to try and use him to help bring Vettel back into play.
Verstappen crossed the line fourth, but that turned into fifth as the stewards handed him a 10-second penalty for hitting Vettel. Hamilton, who has been off pace all weekend, salvaged fifth.
Nico Hulkenberg was a superb sixth for Renault, with Fernando Alonso getting his elbows out and squeezing Vettel, who was struggling with his tires, off track in the opening sequence for seventh.
Renault’s Carlos Sainz and Haas’s Kevin Magnussen completed the top 10 in a race that will live very long in the memory.
Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport
Valtteri Bottas (2nd): "This is disappointing; today doesn't feel like winning a podium but like losing a win. Coming home second is not what we aimed for after the beginning of the race and the successful undercut. The team did a really good job, the pit stop was absolutely perfect and came at the right moment. We lost the race under the safety car. When it came out, Sebastian and I were already past the pit entry, so we were a bit unlucky - the cars behind us could react, but we didn't have any choice. They could get fresh tires, but I ended up doing nearly 40 laps on the Medium, so of course it was slower in the end. It's very close between Red Bull, Ferrari and us, so we need to make sure we keep developing our car. Nearly winning both last weekend and this weekend is the worst feeling - but it makes both me and the entire team even hungrier. Thankfully there are a lot more races to go."
Lewis Hamilton (4th): "It was another difficult day at the office. I was trying to hold on, but my tires were done, so I had no chance of keeping the Red Bulls behind. Saturday and Sunday felt like a disaster from my side. I just haven't had the pace since yesterday and I struggled with the car. We've been underperforming but I'm not going to let my head drop because I know we have a tough battle ahead of us. I need to get back to my normal level of performance before I lose more valuable points. It could have been worse, Max did me a favor today in terms of the points standings, but it's a weekend to forget, that's for sure. Now we need to work hard to understand why we have been struggling and start the climb back to the front of the field."
Andrew Shovlin: "Firstly congratulations to Valtteri finishing his 100th race with another podium. Last week Valtteri was wanting the race to run a few laps longer and this week he'll be glad that it finished when it did. He drove a strong race, managed his tires well and had the pace to make the undercut work with Vettel. It would have been great to have seen him on the top step but we missed it by quite a margin today as we just weren't fast enough compared to Red Bull. Leading up to the safety car, the race was going reasonably well. Valtteri was running in first place and Lewis was in fourth having benefit from Ferrari going long on the first stint with Kimi. The safety car changed the situation: we had to stay out with Valtteri to retain the lead and decided not to stop Lewis as we might have lost a position to Ricciardo, and risked losing a further place to Kimi. We'd not been able to overtake during the first stint so were conscious that if we'd lost that position, we may have been stuck there. However, we simply didn't have the pace to beat Red Bull on the same strategy today and we need to be very honest with ourselves regarding our performance of our car this weekend. We've had very different conditions over qualifying and race but haven't been fastest in either. We're off to Baku next which is a very different type of circuit and we are fully expecting another close battle. We've got work to do in many areas, both qualifying and race pace need to be improved. This championship is anyone's to win and we will be working flat out over the next few weeks and month to try and solve our weaknesses."
Toto Wolff: "I am sure that was a fantastic grand prix for the fans watching in the grandstands and back at home - but it was a very challenging one from where we were sitting. Ultimately, the reality of today's pace is that we lacked pace in each phase - Sebastian managed the performance in the opening stint, building a good gap to Valtteri, and the Red Bulls were significantly faster on fresher tires after the Safety Car. The best part of our day was undoubtedly Valtteri's drive: the pit wall called an aggressive undercut, the boys delivered a perfect pit stop and he claimed first the position over Sebastian, then the lead from Kimi with a bold pass round the outside. We saw a real fighter in the car today and, while he was unfortunate with the Safety Car timing opening the door for Red Bull, he protected P2 in a perfect way. For Lewis, it was a tougher afternoon. He could not make progress in the opening stint, pitted early for the medium tire running a one-stop strategy and then was sitting in P3 after the Safety Car came in. At that stage we believed that gaining track position was key as we did not see any overtaking in the first part of the race. In the end we must admit that the decision from Red Bull to pit for a fresh set of tires under the safety car was the right call but that was not a given at that stage of the race. P2 and P4 is some good damage limitation from a tricky race but it is little comfort that this puts us in the lead of the constructors' championship as we head home. We have seen the competitive picture change quickly over the past three races and it's clear that we still have much to understand about our car and how to get the best from the tires. We have been in tough spots before in recent years and shown the right spirit to respond. We will do the same again this time."
Kimi Raikkonen (3rd): "It was quite a painful race and not a very enjoyable one. At the start I had a good jump, but then I had to back off and this cost me a few places. After the pit stop the car was pretty fast and the feeling was good; at that point we were behind, but I could see the other cars at the end of the straight. The safety car helped us, at that time we had fresh tires. I would say it took us back in the race. In the end I had a decent speed with the Mediums against the guys that were on the same tires, but getting close to them and try to follow was really tricky. For sure we were faster than Valtteri, but when you get close it becomes more difficult, you lose so much grip in the process and lose so much downforce, especially in this kind of circuit. I just couldn't get enough of a run on him. Today we take the third place, but obviously when you start from the first row it's far from ideal. We'll try to do better next time."
Sebastian Vettel (8th): "I was lucky to end my race. After a collision like the one I had, I think we could have even stopped there. Obviously, the lucky thing is that the car was still working, even if the balance was gone. We lost the lead after the pit stop and that was not ideal. We were quite sure we would have come out in front, but we didn't. The timing of the Safety Car was bad for both me and Valtteri, because we had no chance to react. After that it was clear that Red Bull was faster and I think there was no point to resist much at the way Daniel approached from behind, and then the same happened with Max. I gave him some room just in case he had a bit of tire lock-up, but then obviously he had a big one and that's why we crashed. I think he realized he was wrong. We were both lucky to continue but it was not necessary. However, I appreciated the fact he came to me straightway because that's the way to solve things like this, face to face. But obviously this is not the result we were looking for."
Maurizio Arrivabene, Team Principal: "Today's result was definitely not the one we were aiming for, given that we were starting from the front row. Our race pace wasn't bad, but this was a Grand Prix in which the many variables made the difference. Kimi made it to the podium and Sebastian limited the damage in a car which, after the collision, was not in the best of conditions for a fight. Now it's important for us to maintain concentration and determination, already thinking about the next race in Baku."
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo (1st): "That was fun, a lot of fun and I just about believe it now. From where we were yesterday you would not have believed we would be here today. For me this is a massive reward but for the mechanics and engineers, they really earned this victory. Not only for the pit stops and strategy today but for getting me out in Qualifying yesterday which enabled me to get in the fight for victory, they should be very, very proud. The problem in free practice wasn't their fault but they did all the hard work and made today happen. At the start of the race I thought we could fight for a podium but I didn't really expect a win; then after the safety car and when I could see the way the race was going I knew we had a chance. Once I had a sniff of victory I wasn't going to let it go. The team made a very quick decision to stop both cars under the safety car and it was a winning decision. I have lots of emotions. On the in lap I was just smiling and I didn't have many words, then on the podium I was nearly in tears and in the press conference I was just thinking about the whole race and also about last week; how disappointed this sport can make you feel but also how high it can make you feel. Now we can all go and celebrate tonight."
Max Verstappen (5th): "Not the result I wanted today, we missed a great opportunity for a double podium. I tried to pass Lewis on the outside but there were too many marbles and I went a bit wide, it was a shame as I was in a good position but ended up losing a position to Daniel. It was still an open race with the possibility to finish first and second but unfortunately I made some mistakes. Seb was struggling a bit on the tires so I knew I had an opportunity, I tried to take him on the inside but locked the rears and ended up hitting him. I am disappointed with myself that this is the outcome of the race. The team executed everything perfectly today, we had a great strategy and the car was behaving well so it is a real shame. It isn't going my way at the minute so I'll go away and analyze this and hopefully come back stronger. A massive well done to the team on such a strong weekend and of course to Daniel on the race win."
Christian Horner, Sporting Director: "To achieve our first victory of the year here in China was the result of a fantastic team effort. A strong strategy and a great performance by the pit crew, who have done an amazing job all weekend particularly with the engine change on Daniel's car; and Daniel drove an amazing race and fully deserved victory. His passes were exemplary and the strategy really came alive for us under the safety car. We made a late call to get both cars in and again the second double stop was clinically executed and they did an unbelievable job. For Max the first part of the race was going very well for him, unfortunately he lost time on the outside of Lewis, dropped behind Daniel, and then, when attempting a pass on Sebastian, he made contact resulting in a 10 second penalty which he has apologized for. He still managed to bring the car home in fifth; it is a result I am sure he will be frustrated with, but performance today bodes well for the coming season. Speaking of a team effort, any win begins with all of the guys and girls back at the factory and the dedication and hard work there, and that allows us to enjoy moments like this."
Sahara Force India F1 Team
Esteban Ocon (11th): "We were so close to scoring points today, but the events of the race didn't really help us. It was a messy start and we lost some time, and we didn't make any progress. The race was starting to come back to us because we pitted early and the two-stop strategy looked to be working well. We were on course to finish in the points until the Safety Car came out. After that it was a big push until the end of the race, but I was stuck behind Grosjean for too long and he defended very well. Ultimately this cost me the chance of overtaking Magnussen and getting back in the points. It's another race where things didn't play into our hands, but the pace was competitive so we focus on the positives."
Sergio Perez (12th): "It was another race ruined on the first lap. The start was chaotic and I ran into a lot of trouble. I was pushed wide by a Renault at the exit of turn four and lost a lot of places there. That pretty much ruined our whole weekend. We were suddenly on the back foot, on the weaker tire and there was very little I could do. We got close to the points and the team made a strategy call that gave me an opportunity to try and pass Kevin [Magnussen] but there was not enough time. We can focus on the positives: we are getting closer to our competition. Yesterday we took a step forward; we made another improvement today and I am confident that once we get to Europe we can start picking up some stronger results."
Robert Fernley, Deputy Team Principal: "A difficult opening lap put us on the back foot and saw both cars drop down the order. Despite a pace advantage we were stuck in traffic, which forced us to pit both cars early in an attempt to undercut the cars ahead of us. Both cars were following two-stop strategies and after the Safety Car it was a case of trying to recover to the points, which we very nearly did. It was one of those afternoons where a combination of factors played against us and into the hands of others. The pace of the car was solid and that's definitely a positive to take away we prepare for Baku."
Williams Martini Racing
Lance Stroll (14th): "It was a great start again and, like in Bahrain, I made up five or six positions at the start. Then after that I believe we raced the maximum out of the car. We were not very lucky with the safety car, because the guys on two stops got a free pitstop in front of us. I think the Force Indias were possible to beat today, not on pure pace, but with the good start and everything. It was a bit of a shame, but I am really happy with the race. We got our strategy done and I believe we got everything out of it today."
Sergey Sirotkin (15th): "It was a difficult race. I had nothing to lose so I had to fight at the start. I tried to get some positions but when you're right in the midfield it's difficult to do something and I think I could have managed better. Afterwards I really struggled to find the pace. It was quite difficult to find the window with the tire and it was a very tough first stint. At some points when I was in free air for a few laps it was stabilizing a bit, but overall it was really tricky. We pitted for a new set of mediums and then new softs under the safety car. I don't know what happened to them but they had far less grip than the mediums so we lost quite a bit with that, then we were just trying to get to the end of the race."
Paddy Lowe, Chief Technical Officer: "Although these aren't great results, and certainly not in the points, compared to where we were in Bahrain it's fantastic get two cars to the finish in 14th and 15th. We were certainly in the race today whereas in Bahrain we were not even competing, so a much more positive feeling for everyone and something we can build on in the weeks to come. Both cars had really good starts off the line with Lance taking the most profit out of it, through turns one and two, and getting as high as 12th with Sergey 15th. We always planned the one stop soft-medium and we stuck with that as it was working very well for us. The safety car didn't help us that much but we took the opportunity to put Sergey on the soft tire, which appeared to be a better tire for us and for this circuit, as indeed it appeared to be for the front runners. On pace, we were able to beat the Saubers but through strategy, we were able to beat both Toro Rosso cars, as well as the Haas of Grosjean."
Renault Sport Formula One Team
Nico Hulkenberg (6th): “Everyone seemed to have low grip at the start with cars sliding all over the place. We were on a two-stop strategy from the beginning, so we had to make the tire last, while maintaining strong pace. It paid off well, the safety car played to our hands and made things easier, but even without the safety car I think we would have come out on top. The pace was good today and we were on top of the midfield, so not a bad day overall. Eight points, we’ll take that home. It was an entertaining one, that’s for sure!”
Carlos Sainz (9th): “Double points for the team again this year! Well done! I made a really good start moving on one of the Red Bulls but he squeezed me out on the first lap, moving back a couple of places behind Nico. From there we managed to cover two-stops with the aid of the safety car. On my last stint, traffic behind Alonso and Magnussen degraded my tires too much and I had to save them in order to have a better opportunity at the end of the race. It was really close with Vettel…had there been another lap I would have had him. Overall I’m happy to score more points but I still need to work hard with my engineers to get full confidence with the car.”
Cyril Abiteboul, Managing Director: “Today was obviously a good day for the team which shows we are gaining in maturity. We had decent starting positions with both cars in the top ten, but that actually put us in a difficult position with our race strategy as we knew we would have to do two stops when the competitors around us were in a position to complete the race with one. But thanks to a strong first lap and many very clean overtaking moves from our drivers we made that work. The safety car helped slightly but I don’t think it would have changed much. The team is building and getting stronger across the board. Our pace was encouraging, as was the win of Daniel Ricciardo, showing the Renault power unit is getting there and is a race-win capable engine."
Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda
Pierre Gasly (18th): "It was a difficult weekend for us overall because we never found the pace since Saturday morning. We knew the race would be difficult after the performance we had in qualifying and the car was quite tricky. Today things didn't really work out for us, so we have plenty to analyze between the two weekends and try to understand why we were fast in Bahrain and why we struggled in Shanghai. I apologize to Brendon for the contact we had, the team told me that they were going to switch our positions so I went on the inside of the back straight thinking he would give me space. Unfortunately, I don't think he saw me and once I was on the inside there was nothing I could do. We lost a lot of time after that, I broke my front wing and the steering bent at the end of the race, so it was really difficult to drive and we couldn't do much from there. We have some work to do to get ready for Baku, it's a track I know and like so I'm looking forward to getting there."
Brendon Hartley (DNF, Gearbox): "It was a tough day for us, at the beginning of the race I had no grip on the Ultrasofts so that compromised our strategy. Starting near the back of the grid we tried alternating strategies to give us a better chance but unfortunately that didn't work. I think the accident with Pierre was down to a miscommunication. The team asked us to swap positions because we were on completely different strategies, so I was going to let him by on the exit of Turn 14 like I did at the start of the race. The second time we had to change positions I planned to do the same but I got hit from behind at the apex. Then towards the end of the race I had to retire because the team saw an issue with the gearbox. In the end it was a long afternoon."
Franz Tost, Team Principal: "First of all, congratulations to Red Bull Racing for this fantastic victory. It was a fantastic decision from the strategy side and Daniel Ricciardo took the chance. He had everything under control to win the race. Unfortunately, Toro Rosso didn't perform well. This weekend we struggled from the very beginning onwards - we were near the back on the starting grid, and during the race we couldn't find the pace we needed. In addition to this, we had the collision between the two drivers because of a communication misunderstanding, which is a real shame. At the end of the race, we detected an issue on the gearbox of Brendon's car and therefore we had to retire. Hopefully we can find the reason for this bad performance and be more competitive in Baku."
Toyoharu Tanabe, Honda F1 Technical Director: "After a strong showing in Bahrain just a few days ago, we have had a much more difficult weekend in Shanghai and today's poor result reflects that. On the PU front, everything ran smoothly, but our overall pace was not very good and then it was unfortunate that our two cars collided. Now, after three races in just four weeks, we can assess what we have learned in order to improve for the future."
Haas F1 Team
Kevin Magnussen (10th): "I just got unlucky with the safety car. Our strategy was paying off to begin with, but then we got the safety car at a bad time. We didn't get the advantage out of the strategy that we would've had otherwise. I don't know if we should've pitted. It was a tough choice. I just think the safety car came at a very unlucky time and it meant we couldn't score more than the one point. That's still okay, but we had hoped for a bit more. It's a long season and, hopefully, we'll keep scoring points. I'm proud of how we're performing as a team. We need to keep that up."
Romain Grosjean (17th): "We made a ballsy strategy going on the ultrasofts to mediums. Unfortunately, the misfortune kept going with me because I knew from the safety car in the middle of the race – when I was on the very long stint on the medium – we were not going to pit. I knew it would be very difficult at the restart, and it was. I tried to hang on to P11 as long as I could but, eventually, the two Force Indias passed me. We came in for another set of ultrasofts for the last 10 laps. They were encouraging as there was very low degradation, and the car felt really good. I knew things were going to be very difficult at the safety car, though."
Guenther Steiner, Team Principal: "A tough finish to the day. The safety car destroyed our race, obviously. I think we were on the way to be seventh with Kevin, and eighth or ninth with Romain. The Renaults got a free pit stop and, therefore, we ended up where we were. We couldn't get the tires back up to temperature after the safety car. Kevin fought hard to finish 10th, and Romain just had to change tires again as we couldn't get any temperature into them anymore. It's a tough end to the day but, again, we showed that we can fight in the positions that we fought in from the last two races. I think in some places we can be best of the rest. We go with a positive attitude to Baku and try to do there what we haven't done over the first three races."
McLaren F1 Team
Fernando Alonso (7th): “Again, on Sundays we seem to deliver better than any other day, which is good as this is when points are given out.
“It was a well-executed race from our side – P13 at the start and P11 after the first lap. The Safety Car didn’t play into our hands as we were on a one-stop strategy and we’d just pitted onto good, fresh tires which were going to take us to the end, but the Safety Car gave everyone else the opportunity to pit.
“We had good battles with Haas and Ferrari, even though the latter wasn’t really a fair fight as Sebastian [Vettel] apparently had damage on his car and was struggling in the corners. We caught up with him, saw that the door was open in one corner, so we went for it.
“P7 is a great result for the team after a difficult weekend, but there’s no doubt that we have to improve. Our pace wasn’t there all weekend and we were still not fast enough in the race. “It was great to see more people here in the grandstands than in previous years, thanks to the Chinese fans!”
Stoffel Vandoorne (13th): “I didn’t have a great start today and lost a few places on the opening lap. I managed to make three solid overtakes to make a few positions back before the pit-stop. The question for us was whether to make one or two stops when racing the other cars around us, and unfortunately our one-stop strategy didn’t really pay off in the end because the others around us benefitted from pitting under the Safety Car.
“We thought there might be more opportunities at the end, but we didn’t have the pace and I felt a strong vibration in the car which made the last few laps difficult.
“It wasn’t the day we were hoping for, but despite this, we still showed that our race pace today was stronger than our qualifying pace. We’re working hard to improve this and our performance on Saturdays, and hopefully we can have a stronger weekend in Baku.”
Eric Boullier, Racing Director: “While today was the tough race we expected, we were still able to show our fighting spirit and bring home some more valuable points.
“Fernando made a good start, and was up to P11 by the end of the third lap. He managed to maintain strong pace compared to those around him despite the Safety Car period, executed a good strategy, and made a couple of stunning overtakes in the final stages of the race to cross the line in seventh.
“On the other side of the garage, Stoffel wasn’t as lucky today. He had a slow start off the line and found himself with an uphill struggle after losing a couple of places. He responded strongly though, making some solid overtakes and managing his tires well. In the latter stages, when his competitors were on fresher rubber, he battled hard in the midfield despite suffering from a strong vibration which made the final laps tricky to manage. He gave it everything to finish in 13th but it was a tough day for him, and we hope for better fortunes in Baku.
“We opted to run a one-stop strategy today with both drivers, knowing that our tire management showed good potential. Unfortunately, we were a little bit unlucky with the Safety Car as many of the cars around us took advantage of the window to pit. Still, we fought hard, proved to be opportunistic and used the strengths of our package to our advantage to come home with six more points. Now, we head back to the factory after a long stint away, to regroup and work on preparing ourselves for the next race in Baku.”
Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team
Marcus Ericsson (16th): “I had a good start today, but lost a few positions after I went slightly off-track in one of the turns. Overall, the race had two phases. The first part was on soft tires; I was struggling quite a bit as the balance did not feel great. After changing to the medium tires, I caught up with the lower midfield and could keep up with their pace. Once we look at the data, we can start our preparations for the next race in Azerbaijan.”
Charles Leclerc (19th): “It was not an ideal race today. I started on a set of soft tires. I was quite happy with my pace, and managed to advance to the midfield. Shortly after I changed to the set of medium tires, I spun into the gravel. I picked up some damage to the floor, and started having some trouble with the balance of the car. Unfortunately, I lost a couple of positions there. We will look at our data and make sure that we are ready to do the best job possible in Baku.”
Frederic Vasseur, Team Principal: “The race had two different sides for us. We had both drivers on a one-stop strategy, starting on the soft, and changing to medium tires. For Charles, the first stint was a very good one. He could match the pace of the midfield, and recover a few positions. After the pit stops, the race started to change. There was a safety car following an incident on track. The timing was not ideal for us, as our competitors took this chance to save time during their pit stops. Shortly after changing to the medium tire compound, Charles spun into the gravel. He flat-spotted and picked up damage to his floor. Unfortunately, not much was possible for him after that. Marcus, on the other hand, had a good pace in the second stint and felt more comfortable on the medium tires. He recovered a few positions and delivered a consistent performance. Overall, the race pace is there and we can see that we can get in the fight within the midfield. We still have some improvements to make for qualifying. That is the next step, and we look forward to the next race.”
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