Daniel Ricciardo at one point felt he was starting Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix from the back row following a problem with his engine in qualifying.
Instead, the Australian used it as motivation to end the day up front.
Ricciardo began the race by calmly moving up the grid. Then, he took an advantage from the event’s only safety car period to pass Valtteri Bottas on the 45th lap. The Red Bull driver went on to win his sixth career Formula One race by 9.1 seconds over the Finn. Kimi Raikkonen took third.
“I don’t seem to win boring races,” Ricciardo followed up afterwards. “They seem to be pretty fun. This was not what I expected.”
Ricciardo during the midpoint of the race was sitting sixth position while Sebastian Vettel, Bottas and Raikkonen were fighting up front. But around the 33rd lap, backmarkers Pierre Gasly and his Toro Rosso teammate, Brendon Hartley, collided at turn 14, throwing debris all over the hairpin.
It took a few minutes for the marshals to put out a safety car period, a yellow in which both Ricciardo and his Red Bull teammate, Max Verstappen, dove into the pits at the same time. The strategy worked. By the time the safety car period ended, both drivers found themselves up close with the leaders along with fresh rubber.
The tires pushed Ricciardo to be super aggressive in his efforts. From sixth, he began to pass Lewis Hamilton, then Vettel. By lap 43, he found himself in second, right behind Bottas, and finally passed the Finn with 11 laps to go.
Vettel dropped behind after colliding with Verstappen at turn 14 before the end of the race, which dropped him down the order. That left Ricciardo completely unchallenged down the stretch.
Hamilton had a quiet race, taking fourth, while Verstappen, who finished originally in fourth, was penalized ten seconds for his altercation with Vettel and finished fifth. Nico Hulkenberg continued to improve, taking sixth, with his Renault teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. finishing ninth. Vettel ended up eighth and Kevin Magnussen took the last point for the American Haas F1 Team.
Reflecting on his win, Ricciardo was not even thinking he had a chance. That’s especially after taking just two laps in Saturday qualifying.
“24 hours ago, I thought that we maybe starting at the back of the grid.” he said. “Thanks to the boys after yesterday. Today was the reward of that work.”