The first half of the Chinese Grand Prix was, well, just OK. Sebastian Vettel led the early stages but was jumped during the stops by Valtteri Bottas, who made use of the undercut to steal the lead. It was looking like being a tense duel between those two, but then the two Toro Rossos got together at the hairpin, bringing out the safety car.
Red Bull decided to take the chance on pitting both of its cars for fresh soft tyres, giving Ricciardo and Max Verstappen a serious pace advantage at the restart. Whilst Max (who had every chance to win) messed up pretty much every overtaking opportunity, Danny Ric pulled off his usual trick of making a series of clean, late-braking moves to get to the head of the field and take his sixth victory.
Bottas was pretty unlucky with the safety car, but still managed to hold on for a strong second from Kimi Raikkonen (who also has fresher tyres) in a weekend where he comprehensively outperformed Lewis Hamilton. He lost out at the start and never really looked like threatening the podium.
As for Vettel? He went from fighting for the win to struggling to eighth after he was torpedoed into a spin by an optimistic move from Verstappen at the hairpin. His tyres ruined, he slipped down the order and was even passed by Fernando Alonso’s McLaren in the closing laps.
Verstappen got a 10-second penalty causing the collision and was classified fifth – not great when he could (and perhaps should) realistically have won.
Nico Hulkenberg had another impressive race for Renault to finish sixth, with Carlos Sainz in ninth, hounding Vettel in the final corner. Kevin Magnussen took the final point for Haas ahead of the battling Force Indias.
Toro Rosso fell from grace after the heroics of Bahrain and spent much of the race running towards the back with the Saubers. Pierre Gasly was penalised for hitting his teammate and finished 18th, with Brendon Hartley becoming the only retirement of the race in the closing laps.
INITIAL CLASSIFICATION (END OF RACE): Best #ChineseGP ever? #F1 pic.twitter.com/swi6LQExwh
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 15, 2018
The day definitely belonged to Ricciardo, though. He’s turned winning races from difficult situations into an art form and reaffirmed his status as probably the best overtaker on the grid.
The championship has closed up nicely, too – just 24 points separate Vettel at the top from Raikkonen in fifth. Roll on Baku in two weeks!