WHAT a turnaround for Red Bull – and what a win for Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo.
After an early retirement in last week’s Bahrain Grand Prix and an engine blow-up in qualifying for the Chinese Grand Prix, it looked as if Red Bull Racing’s woes were on a downward spiral in Shanghai.
But the technicians rebuilt the Renault engine in a frantic three hours and got the car back on track with just enough time left for one lap of qualifying, and the 28-year-old Perthling made the most of it.
Starting from sixth on the grid with teammate Max Verstappen third, the race had all the makings of another Ferrari-Mercedes procession until he 30th lap of the 56-lap GP when the two Toro Rossos managed to crash into each other.
That brought the safety car out, which, in turn, ignited the on-track fireworks as the 5.4km circuit became the stage for an intriguing battle.
Red Bull called in both of its cars for a change to grippier soft tyres.
It was a decisive move, which lost them a few places, but gave them more pace than the Ferraris and Mercs in the remaining laps.
They started reeling in the frontrunners, then Verstappen suffered another of his red mist moments, trying to muscle past Lewis Hamilton’s Merc – and ran off track.
He recovered, then continued his cavalier style and whacked into Sebastien Vettel’s Ferrari, which earned him a 10-second penalty.
He did, however, admit it was his fault and later apologised to the fuming Vettel.
Ricciardo opened the taps in the last dozen laps and executed a copybook overtake on Hamilton at the hairpin, set the fastest lap and, in a bold move, got by Valtteri Bottas to take the lead.
He finished nearly 9 seconds ahead of the Finn, with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen a further 9.6 seconds astern, then a sizeable gap to Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Huldenberg in the Renault.
But Verstappen was dropped to fifth place for his dopey move on Vettel and fourth went to Hamilton.
The win was Ricciardo’s sixth of his career and the wide-smiling driver, popularly known as the honey badger, also got the ‘driver of the day’ award.
The hapless Vettel ended up eighth after Fernando Alonso also picked him off in the McLaren Renault.
Carlos Sainz was ninth for Renault and Kevin Magnussen claimed the last championship point for Haas-Ferrari.
“That was fun, a lot of fun and I just about believe it now,” Ricciardo said.
“At the start 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.”
Of course he celebrated on the podium with his trademark champagne from his size 9 shoe while Bottas and Raikkonen were trying to outdo each other in expressionless faces.
Red Bull principal Christian Horner was elated, labelling the win as ‘the result of a fantastic team effort.
“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,” he said.
“Today’s performance bodes well for the coming season.”
Next race is the Azerbaijan GP at Baku – where Ricciardo won in 2017.