You could say that snatching unlikely victories from the jaws of defeat has become Daniel Ricciardo‘s bread and butter. So when the Aussie looked set to dominate the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, it was perhaps fitting that he was thrown a curveball that would put a popular victory in doubt.
For all the glitz and glamour of Monaco, its narrow, twisting streets afforded Ricciardo an opportunity to display a herculean effort with a deft subtlety at odds with the Principality’s ostentatious surroundings.
The story of Ricciardo’s triumph however, began well before he lost 161bhp worth of electrical power and was forced to dig deeper than ever for the remaining fifty laps. Before, even, he topped every practice session with a new lap record each time.
It started two year’s previously in fact, when he was leading the pack for the first time on the streets of Monte Carlo…
That weekend in 2016 had seen Ricciardo dominate the early stages of the race, destined for victory until a pit-stop that can only be described as an almighty cock-up ended his victory chances. Since then, few would argue that the famous streets have owed Ricciardo a debt.
That debt has now been settled. And in some style.
THE ROAD TO REDEMPTION
As Ricciardo himself said after scoring a sensational pole-position, “that’s fifty percent done.” A good start in the race, beating the chasing Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton to turn one would see Ricciardo in the box seat, cruising and controlling his pace, mothering his fragile Hypersoft and Supersoft tyres.
But on lap twenty-eight, as things were looking comfortable for Ricciardo, so came chomping the jaws of defeat: “I went on-throttle, and I had what felt like half the amount of power to what I was normally having,” Ricciardo explained.
“I thought it was just going to drop. I basically expected my race to be over in a few corners, because it came suddenly. I was doing multiple switch changes.
“After a few laps obviously I was stressing out a bit. I asked the team ‘can we do anything about this?’ and they said ‘no, this is you for the rest of the race now’, and I could see Seb catching…”
And indeed Seb caught him, but catching is one thing, overtaking is whole other beast. And this being Monaco and all…
At any other track it’s likely Ricciardo would have been swallowed by the baying pack, having put up a staunch defence, no doubt. But it wasn’t just Monaco’s narrow, Armco-lined track that saved him.
With a 161bhp deficit, over-heating rear brakes and a head full of worry Ricciardo was faultless, relying on Aston Martin Red Bull Racing‘s superior chassis and his own supreme talent, calling comparisons with Michael Schumacher’s effort at Barcelona in 1994. That day the German maestro finished second, despite being stuck in fifth gear for much of the race.
Just as comparisons between great Champions’ League Final bicycle-kick goals fill our social media feeds, so Ricciardo’s effort in Monaco can be looked upon with the same awe as Schumacher’s in Spain.
But if comparisons with the great Schumacher aren’t enough, how about Dr. Helmut Marko’s praise of Ricciardo’s performance; the man referred to in some circles as Darth Marko said “I don’t think any other driver could have done this”. That’s quite the pat on the back from a man who rarely gives praise.
And so Ricciardo scored his second win of the year, his seventh to date, and arguably his most impressive. But there’s a dark caveat to this tale of triumph…
HAS F1 OUT-GROWN MONACO?
The wider championship picture — of which Ricciardo has potentially edged in on — saw Vettel hold off Hamilton to claim second in the race and narrow the gap at the top of the drivers’ championship to fourteen points.
That Vettel was unable to pass the crippled Red Bull and Hamilton in turn unable to launch a challenge on Vettel was a theme throughout the field with the likes of Valtteri Bottas (fifth) unable to overtake Kimi Räikkönen (fourth), despite demonstrating superior pace on different tyres.
In fact, it was only Max Verstappen, starting last courtesy of his clattering of the Armco in final free practice, that demonstrated any overtaking prowess whatsoever, even then only achieving ninth. Begging the question — and not for the first time — has Formula 1 out-grown Monaco?
Fernando Alonso described the race from which he retired as “the most boring race ever”. More damning perhaps, was Hamilton’s examination, which turned a result of “not really racing..”
The reigning champ went further, suggesting F1 change the format of its blue riband event.
“It’s got the biggest build-up,” he said. “It’s the most special race of the year. I was thinking, ‘It’s just a shame that the race isn’t as exciting as the whole spectacle and the track is’.
“There’s no place like it, but I think Formula 1 needs to apply a different rule or schedule or something. You shouldn’t be able to do a one-stop here.
“Maybe it’s got to be a different format or something here. It’s got to be more mixed-up things – I don’t know what.”
Formula 1 has already rushed through regulations regarding car design for 2019 in order to improve overtaking in races as soon as possible. But what about the circuits? Will there be a place in Liberty Media‘s new-look F1 for the tight, narrow, streets of Monte Carlo?
For now, the circus heads to Montreal for the 2018 Canadian Grand Prix, where our thirst for overtaking will likely be quenched.