Daniel Ricciardo won a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix after a strategic masterstroke by his Aston Martin Red Bull Racing team under the safety car.
The Australian pitted for a new set of soft tyres during the safety car and fought from sixth place to win at the Shanghai International Circuit.
Valtteri Bottas on his one hundredth Formula 1 start finished second for Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport despite leading for a large part of the race, with the Scuderia Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen completing the podium in third.
The second Red Bull of Max Verstappen finished fourth on the road but drops to fifth in the classfied standings after a penalty for causing a collision with Sebastian Vettel, with Lewis Hamilton inheriting the position and moving into that fourth place.
Vettel struggled to eighth and saw his championship lead cut as first Nico Hulkenberg and then Fernando Alonso got ahead of the Ferrari in the closing stages, the Renault Sport Formula One Team and McLaren F1 Team drivers taking advantage of the German’s lack of pace due to the damage caused in his collision with Verstappen.
Carlos Sainz Jr. had one attempt to pass Vettel on the final lap but was forced to settle for ninth, with Kevin Magnussen rounding out the points with the Sahara Force India F1 Team just missing out on points.
Ferrari Caught Napping as Safety Car Proves Crucial
Vettel had maintained the lead at the start, but Raikkonen found himself shuffled to fourth behind Bottas and Verstappen in the first couple of corners, with Hamilton and Ricciardo maintaining their grid positions off the line.
Bottas had then looked to have been on his way to his victory when he used the undercut to his advantage to get past Vettel in the pit stop sequence, before Ferrari attempted to get Raikkonen to interfere in their battle by staying out far longer than any other of the front runners, but pitted after both Bottas and Vettel had easily found their way passed the veteran Finn.
The other Finn then had Vettel at arms length until the two Red Bull Toro Rosso Honda’s car of Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley collided causing the safety car. A week on from playing a starring role in the Bahrain Grand Prix, Gasly made a mess of an overtake on his team-mate at the hairpin, with the Frenchman suffering a damaged front wing after spinning the New Zealander around. The debris from the two cars was enough for race director Charlie Whiting to send out the safety car, with the call coming just as the two leaders, Bottas and Vettel, exited the final turn.
Behind them Red Bull made the immediate call to double stop both Verstappen and Ricciardo during the safety car period, which proved to change the course of the race as both had fresh tyres, with both having the chance to make their way back through the field.
A Verstappen mistake when trying to pass Hamilton allowed Ricciardo to clear his team-mate and from there, the Australian never looked back, as within a handful of laps, he was in the lead – not bad for someone who was two minutes away from startin the race from the back of the grid following a turbo failure in final practice and an urgent engine change by the Red Bull mechanics ahead of Qualifying.
A tremendous move on Hamilton into the hairpin was followed by great moves on Vettel and Bottas to move in to the lead of the race, and from there on he was in a race of his own, pulling away with ease with a number of new fastest laps in the process.
Verstappen Under Scrutiny Again
The Dutchman had a good start and was running in third but slipped back behind Hamilton after the safety car.
A mistake when running behind the defending champion allowed Ricciardo past but controversy arose when he made a move on Vettel. Verstappen tagged the Ferrari driver and both spun at the hairpin at the end of the long back straight, which caused them to slip back down the order as the Dutchman received a ten second penalty for his troubles.
The move enabled Ricciardo to jump into second and Raikkonen into third, with Hamilton inheriting fourth once the penalty was applied to Verstappen. Unfortunately for Vettel, he fell behind Hamilton and Hulkenberg into seventh, before being defenceless as Alonso attacked him in the closing laps, leaving him trailing in eighth at the chequered flag, only just ahead of Sainz.
Midfield As Tight As Before
Hulkenberg was best of the rest as the midfield looked as close as ever with battles throughout the field, with the German taking advantage of the ailing Vettel to claim sixth, while Fernando Alonso rescued a strong seventh place finish from thirteenth on the grid.
The two Renault cars battled early on as did the two Haas F1 Team drivers, with moves as early as lap seven coming from the later to allow Magnussen to pass team-mate Romain Grosjean, who was heard to complain about the request over the radio. It was probably a good call however, with the Dane able to ease away from the Frenchman, who ultimately ended the race well down the field in seventeenth.
The two Force India drivers missed out on points, with Sergio Perez making a poor start from eighth on the grid to fall behind team-mate Esteban Ocon, with the duo ending eleventh and twelfth, with the second McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne thirteenth.
The two Williams Martini Racing drivers were next up, Lance Stroll just under three seconds ahead of Sergey Sirotkin, with Marcus Ericsson sixteenth in the leading of the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team machines ahead of Grosjean, Gasly and Charles Leclerc, who was the final driver to see the chequered flag after a troubled afternoon that included a spin into the turn one gravel trap that he was lucky to escape from.
After surviving Gasly’s attack, Hartley utimately was the races only retirement with five laps to go when the New Zealander, running at the back of the field, pulled into the pits to retire with an apparent mechanical issue.
However, the day belonged to Ricciardo, who seven days ago was downbeat after an early retirement from the Bahrain Grand Prix. What a difference a week makes!
Chinese Grand Prix Race Result
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