Sunday, Apr 15 07:58pm
AUTHOR: Richard Gee

From failure to first, Ricciardo wins while Hartley retires

On Saturday afternoon Daniel Ricciardo nearly didn't make it out to qualify following an engine failure, 24 hours later, and he has won the Chinese Grand Prix. 


An inspired pit stop strategy by Red Bull and some text book passing gave the Australian an unexpected but popular win on the Shanghai International Circuit.


While the Australian was dominant, it was a miserable day for Kiwi Brendon Hartley who retired with three laps to go. An earlier clash with his Scuderia Toro Rosso teammate that proved decisive for the overall outcome of the Grand Prix.


Hartley and teammate Pierre Gasly changed the whole complexion of the race when Gasly tried an over optimistic move on Hartley and pitched them both into a spin. That secured the Frenchman a 10 second penalty and damaged his Toro Rosso-Honda enough for officials to call a Safety Car while the debris was cleaned up.


Red Bull instantly called in both Ricciardo and his Red Bull Racing teammate Max Verstappen and gave their drivers every chance on new tyres where Mercedes and Ferrari were forced to keep their drivers on older rubber.

Over the final portion of the race, Ricciardo was fast and cleaner on the passing, while Verstappen was fast but spun away his chances following contact with Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel and a 10 second penalty.


It all left a clean path for the Aussie to romp home for the win ahead of Finnish drivers Valtteri Bottas in the Mercedes and Kimi Raikkonen in the Ferrari.


Read the full race report below:


At the lights it was Vettel who made the best getaway and set about building an early lead. Raikkonen was bundled down from the front row into fourth while Hartley had a similar fate, losing out to two cars and ending the first lap 17th, mainly at the expense of a fast starting Lance Stroll in the Williams.


Teammate Pierre Gasly fared even worse, dropping to 19th from his 17th starting spot. When Charles Leclerc passed Hartley on lap three it left both Toro Rossos at the tail of the field, ahead of only Marcus Ericsson in the second Sauber Alfa.


Hartley dropped a further place when his team mate passed him using DRS on the straight and pushed the Kiwi down to 19th.

At the front the early laps were all about the searing pace of Vettel and by lap 10 he had a three second lead on second placed Valtteri Bottas, the Finn just about pegging the early race advantage the Ferrari clearly had. Max Verstappen was also strong in the first part of the race on ultra-soft tyres, making the most of the chaos of a Formula One start to claim third place in the early stages with bold passes on Hamilton and Raikkonen.

Further down the field Hartley simply lacked pace in the first portion of the race, with his team mate pulling away on harder and theoretically slower tyres.


It was no surprise the Kiwi was first to pit and get rid of his ultra-soft tyres, which dropped him to the tail of the field.


Thereafter, however, he made steady progress on fresher tyres relative to Leclerc, Ericsson and Gasly who were involved in their own battles at the back of the midfield and slowly but surely he brought himself back into contention for s fight with the last four runners in the field, albeit well off the pace for his first points.


Lap 20 signalled the major runners’ first round of pit stops and Verstappen made a lightning stop and got his head down putting in very quick sectors and forcing Mercedes to react with first Hamilton pitting then Bottas. Ferrari remained calm though, with Vettel leading Raikkonen after the rest of the leading group had pitted.


Vettel came in on lap 21 and it proved too late, with both Raikkonen and crucially Bottas going through, Mercedes catching Ferrari napping with a silky undercut. Second became the lead for Bottas on lap 27 when he went round the outside of his fellow Finn. Vettel was quick to follow but couldn't make any inroads into Bottas' lead in the next sector of the race.


Hartley's better pace on softs paid off when Gasly pitted on lap 22, the Kiwi leapfrogging him into 19th, which became 18th when Leclerc also pitted. Vandoorne's stop in the McLaren dropped him to 16th, with Lance Stroll in 17th and Hartley hot on the heels of the Williams driver just a couple of seconds behind.


It was all starting to look a little rosier for the Kiwi with good pace on his second set of tyres. That 18th became 17th when Sergei Sirotkin pitted his Williams on lap 30 and by now Hartley had his mirrors full of Toro Rosso team mate Pierre Gasly, who had the benefit of fresher tyres.


The head in the hands moment for Toro Rosso, but the spark for a great final portion of the race came on lap 30 when Gasly locked up making a passing attempt on his team mate that simply wasn't there ruining his front wing and tipping Brendon into a spin.


This dropped Hartley back behind Sirotkin and Leclerc and brought out a lengthy Safety Car period to clear the Toro Rosso mess.


The clash resulted in both drivers being investigated and both drivers in for repairs. After they re-joined Hartley and the two Saubers were waved through to unlap themselves and chase after the field and they had just about caught up the pack when the race got back underway.


The Safety Car had fallen perfectly for Red Bull and it stacked its drivers for pit stops (the second time in the race it had done that) The position of the Safety Car however, meant neither Ferrari nor Mercedes could take advantage in the same way, and Verstappen and Ricciardo set off into the final few laps with a huge advantage.


The restart came on lap 36 and first to make a move was Ricciardo, who passed Raikkonen for fifth. Verstappen wasn't as convincing three laps later however, failing in an attempt to go round Hamilton, going off and losing a place to his team mate Ricciardo.


This opened the door for the Aussie Red Bull star to go after the world champion and he duly obliged, making a magic pass on Hamilton on lap 41 and moving up to third.


Vettel was next in his sights and he caught the championship leader in less than two laps. Verstappen recovered from his off and got back round Hamilton on lap 42 to put Red Bull third and fourth and Ricciardo had moved up to second before the lap was completed, out braking Vettel easily to put himself just over a second behind the leader Bottas.


Immediately after that, it all went wrong for Verstappen and Vettel when Max went for a gap that wasn’t there and turned himself and Vettel around, allowing Hamilton and Raikkonen through.


Bottas meanwhile was powerless to fight off the flying Ricciardo and when Bottas locked up on lap 45, the Australian was through and gone and disappeared up the road to take his sixth Grand Prix victory, all the more impressive considering he was just two minutes away from not even making it out to qualify on Saturday.


Chinese Grand Prix results:


1. Daniel Ricciardo 56 laps
2. Valtteri Bottas +9.637
3. Kimi Raikkonen +9.637
4. Lewis Hamilton +16.985
5. Max Verstappen +20.436
6. Nico Hulkenberg +21.052
7. Fernando Alonso +30.639
8. Sebastian Vettel +35.286
9. Carlos Sainz +35.763
10. Kevin Magnussen +39.594
11. Esteban Ocon +44.050
12. Sergio Perez +44.725
13. Stoffel Vandoorne +49.373
14. Lance Stroll +55.490
15. Sergey Sirotkin +58.241
16. Marcus Ericsson +1:05.296
17. Romain Grosjean +1:05.296
18. Pierre Gasly +1:06.330
19. Charles Leclerc +1:22.575
RET Brendon Hartley  +5 laps



Photo: Getty Images