DANIEL Ricciardo’s inner honey badger was well fed in China.
In the space of eight laps, he made five decisive passing manoeuvres that delivered him victory in the Chinese Grand Prix, the sixth of his Formula 1 career.
His team boss called them “clinical.” His race engineer: “scary” good.
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“I was having fun out there,” he said. “It’s a fun way to win for sure.”
“We had the Soft tyre so I knew I could at least get a little bit more out of the braking than them.
“A lot of the time you just get one chance to try so I thought I’d make the most of the opportunity.”
A mid-race Safety Car changed the complexion of the race, Red Bull seizing the opportunity to pit for fresh Soft compound tyres while the Ferraris and Mercedes remained on track with harder Medium compound tyres they’d fitted at their earlier pit stops.
Ricciardo was sixth when the race restarted on Lap 35 — but he wouldn’t remain there long.
The first pass came on Lap 37, Ricciardo slicing his Red Bull past Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari at the Turn 14 hairpin to go from sixth to fifth.
The next, on Lap 38, wasn’t as much a pass as it was clever evasive action — and a clear illustration of the difference between Ricciardo and teammate Max Verstappen at this point of their careers.
The Dutchman tried to hang on around the outside of Lewis Hamilton at Turn 7 to have the inside line for Turn 8, only for his car to snap sideways and send him off the track.
Ricciardo, behind the pair, watched closely and tried to calculate when the sister Red Bull would return to the track.
“I was actually a little bit nervous that when he came back onto the track he would come out in front of me, so I backed off a little bit,” Ricciardo said.
With Verstappen scrabbling, Ricciardo slipped by to take fourth place.
A lap later Ricciardo was on the podium, nabbing Hamilton at the Turn 14 hairpin in a move that left Red Bull team principal Christian Horner astounded.
“Daniel has been clinical in the way that he’s executed that race,” Horner said.
“His passing moves … there’s one move at Turn 14, it was on Lewis I think, he came from so far back and got the job done.”
Or, as Ricciardo himself put it: “Sometimes you’ve just got to lick the stamp and send it.”
Vettel was the next victim, again at the hairpin, at the end of Lap 42. Soon after, Verstappen would try the same move and come unstuck, sending he and Vettel spinning and leaving Ricciardo free of any challenge from behind.
He saved the best for last.
Valtteri Bottas gave Ricciardo just a carwidth of room on the run to the Turn 6 hairpin on Lap 45, but it was all he needed.
“I thought about pulling out … nah, just kiddin, I was never going to pull out!” Ricciardo joked.
“It was close. I think it was hard but fair. I saw him defend, so I wanted to go shallower, but then he came a bit more.
“I knew there’d always be enough room and tyres had pretty grip. Worst case, I’d run wide and have another crack somewhere else.”
The second chance wouldn’t be needed; Ricciardo got the Red Bull stopped and turned, rocketing out of the corner with a race lead he would not lose.
Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle referred to Ricciardo as the ‘burglar’ of Formula 1, the opportunist who can take any chance given to him and make it a winner.
But perhaps the biggest praise came from retired F1 champion Nico Rosberg, in his new role as a sometime pundit for Sky.
“He was the guy I hated most to have behind me.”