A stunned Daniel Ricciardo was left speechless on the podium after claiming his fifth Formula 1 victory in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, navigating a crazy race that he started from 10th on the grid.
Ricciardo survived three safety car periods, two early pit stops and a red flag stoppage to rise through the order and capitalize on trouble for title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, with both dropping back down the order after dominating early on.
Ricciardo moved into the lead when Vettel was forced to serve a penalty for dangerous driving, and went unchallenged en route to victory in Baku from there, finishing 3.9 seconds clear of the pack.
Struggling to form his words initially, Ricciardo said he only thought a podium was within reach after the restart, only for the issues for the leaders to hand him the race win.
“We know there was a chance of the podium after the restart, but then we heard what happened with Lewis and Seb. It was just a crazy race,” Ricciardo said.
“I made an unplanned stop at the beginning. After a few laps we had some debris in the brakes, so we had to stop and clean it. We dropped to 17th place.
“So did I think then that we could win? Absolutely not. I would have put all my money on it that this was very unlikely.
“A crazy race. This is the race we expected last year, with all the safety cars and all the chaos, and we got it this year.”
Ricciardo’s victory came after he crashed out of qualifying on Saturday evening in Baku, resigning him to a P10 start, but was pleased to make up for it in style.
“Yesterday I was disappointed with the mistake. I knew today would be a different outcome,” Ricciardo said.
“I said it yesterday that we had to stay out of trouble and it certainly paid off today. A big thanks to the team, it was nice to get one car home and on the podium.
“I’m honestly speechless. After the race on the cool down lap, I was kind of just giggling like a school boy.”
After only qualifying sixth, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo was not expected to finish on the podium in the Canadian Grand Prix.
But courtesy of a curious two-stop strategy from Scuderia Ferrari that knocked both Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen back, a missed opportunity from Sahara Force India to not exchange Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez with Ocon on fresher tires, and Max Verstappen’s own early race retirement from second place, Ricciardo emerged best of the rest behind the two Mercedes for his third straight third place finish
Although Ricciardo admitted he didn’t have the pace, he instead used a determined drive on Pirelli’s hardest compound this weekend – the softs – to hold on for third place.
“Today I only had fun when I saw the checkered flag!” the Australian laughed on the podium. “I was defending the whole race. We weren’t quick and I couldn’t afford any mistakes. Concentration was testing. It’s so awesome to be here.”
Once he finished his interview with Sir Patrick Stewart, Ricciardo then played to the Montreal crowd’s wishes to revive the “shoey” – where Ricciardo drinks champagne out of his race boot. For good measure, Ricciardo had Stewart do it, as well.
“I think I hear something but yeah… I have to do something,” Ricciardo smiled before gulping down his first “shoey” of the 2017 season.
Such an intensive preparation program is usually a signal that a race seat awaits, with the likes of Valtteri Bottas, Daniil Kvyat, Jolyon Palmer and Max Verstappen enjoying something similar in recent times.
Giovinazzi certainly has the quality to race in F1, as proven by his GP2 campaign last year and impressive (albeit crash-strewn) showing in the first two races of the season when deputizing at Sauber for the injured Pascal Wehrlein. So for him to be in contention for a race seat with what will be the only Ferrari customer team on the grid next year is no surprise.
The strange part of the announcement was who Giovinazzi would be replacing in the FP1 sessions. He’ll take Romain Grosjean’s seat in the VF-17 for one practice, and leave Kevin Magnussen on the sidelines for the remaining six. It’s unbalanced. With Magnussen on a multi-year deal, it may not point to him being the driver who would get the boot should Ferrari usher Giovinazzi in – but it’s hardly going to fill the Dane with confidence.
Ferrari’s own driver situation is of definite interest. While the Prancing Horse has once again broken into a canter after three race wins to kick off the season, neither championship leader Sebastian Vettel nor teammate Kimi Raikkonen are signed to a firm deal for next year.
Vettel will be Ferrari’s most pressing concern for 2018. His initial three-year deal is up at the end of the season, yet with the team enjoying some of its best form since the end of the Michael Schumacher era in 2006. If Vettel can continue this early season form, it seems difficult to see him leaving the team he has become so entrenched in and comfortable with, even if Mercedes may be an attractive proposition (one I shall get to shortly).
As for Raikkonen? Ferrari really has to ask itself the same question it has done for the past three years: do we want to keep Kimi around? The Finn has been solid this year, albeit unable to match Vettel for pace, and gets on well with his four-time champion teammate. Ferrari may see keeping Raikkonen, who is 38 at the end of the season, as a way to keep Vettel sweet. It may also decide that enough is enough, and that a younger driver who is perhaps more capable of challenging Vettel is required. That is a dilemma for Messers Marchionne and Arrivabene to stew over in the coming months.
Should Ferrari look elsewhere for a driver, it has few obvious options. Romain Grosjean has been linked with Ferrari in the past and has been racing for the customer Haas team for over a season now, so there is a connection. Sergio Perez is another name that has been thrown about as a future Ferrari driver, being one of the top midfield runners with Force India.
If Ferrari wants the best driver possible, then Daniel Ricciardo may be an option. The Australian is locked in to a contract with Red Bull for next year – then again, so was Vettel, and it didn’t stop him moving – but could favor a change of scenery if he believes the grass to be greener. Things are harmonious for now at Red Bull between Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, but when – or indeed if – success comes, tensions could flare.
Ricciardo moving to Ferrari would be a loss for Red Bull, yet it would also help free up a current blockage in its driver program. Carlos Sainz Jr. has been prolific with Toro Rosso for much of his time with the team, hardly shaming himself when alongside Verstappen, and is deserving of a call-up. The Spaniard is doing everything right – so surely if a move up to Red Bull didn’t come for 2018, he would then look elsewhere. Indeed, Ferrari might decide he is the Red Bull-backed driver it wants to sign.
Were Sainz to move up, then GP2 champion Pierre Gasly could get the nod to partner Daniil Kvyat. If Ricciardo and Sainz both stay, then it is Kvyat who would likely find himself in the cold.
So if Red Bull and Ferrari can be tied together in one ‘bracket’ of this driver market, then McLaren and Mercedes can be together in another. Ah, nostalgia…
For Mercedes, the decision for its driver line-up for 2018 seems quite clear: Valtteri Bottas will surely stay beyond his existing one-year deal. The Finn has seamlessly fitted in at Brackley, working well behind-the-scenes and putting in a number of impressive displays on-track, with his maiden F1 victory coming in just his fourth race for the Silver Arrows. Sure, he’s not been beating Lewis Hamilton hands down – nor would that be expected – but he’s certainly stepped up to life in a big team very well.
What’s even more important is the impact he has had on Hamilton. Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff noted over the Monaco weekend how different Hamilton was in himself now Nico Rosberg was out of the team, going as far as saying he could see the Briton seeing out the rest of his F1 career at Brackley. It’s definitely imaginable – and you could see Bottas being there all the while before becoming team leader when Hamilton calls it quits.
This is bad news for Fernando Alonso. Now back from his Indianapolis 500 adventure, Alonso will once again go back to a life of frustration and untapped potential as a McLaren-Honda driver. Out of contract at the end of the year, unless McLaren were to offer him a sugary sweet deal – say, freedom to go and down the Indy 500 and Le Mans as and when he pleases – and show some sign of progress on-rack, it’s hard to see Alonso sticking around.
Alonso has said that he will consider his options after the summer break, with Red Bull being the only team he couldn’t really move to give their drivers are sewn up contract-wise. I noted in a column earlier this year that a return to Ferrari was not out of the realm of imagination, yet in reality, a Vettel-Alonso partnership would not end well, as exciting as it would be for the neutral.
So that leaves Renault as Alonso’s only real option for 2018. It’s based on little more than romanticism, frankly. Alonso won his two world titles with Renault in 2005 and 2006, and returned for a second stint with the team in 2008-09 after his ill-fated year with McLaren. Renault is rebuilding, and needs a driver who is a big, big name to really lead its program – Nico Hulkenberg is a very capable driver, but he’s not Fernando Alonso… – so it would make sense.
It’s really a question of whether Renault would want to have a third whirl-around with Alonso and what it could expect to achieve in the process. Alonso would also be insistent on having the freedom to do events such as Le Mans and Indy, the latter possible (ironically) because of Honda. Renault would have to accept that if it wanted to make a deal possible.
And where does that leave McLaren? Honestly, if Alonso does indeed bail, the British team will need to think fast if it wants a replacement who even sort of fits the bill for a ‘McLaren driver’.
None of the top drivers would be interested in a move to McLaren, and if we quickly tidy up the other teams, you can see who is left up for grabs.
Esteban Ocon looks set at Force India until a place at Mercedes frees up in the future.
Williams will surely keep Lance Stroll given his funding. Felipe Massa seems to be enjoying himself and is quick on-track, so could stay on.
Mercedes may try and move Pascal Wehrlein into either Force India or Williams should a seat arise, given Honda’s arrival at Sauber, who I imagine will want one of its own juniors to partner Marcus Ericsson.
So who does McLaren call? Perez is a no given his one-year stint in 2013. The same is true of Magnussen from the following season. Sainz might be of interest if Ferrari passes over him and he’s had enough of staying at Toro Rosso. Grosjean is an option, but again, would he want to drop Haas for McLaren, particularly if Raikkonen stays on at Ferrari? Or would Kimi himself fancy a return to McLaren for a season..?
It’s really hard to see who McLaren can sign if Alonso does leave. Jenson Button enjoyed his one-race comeback in Monaco, yet he showed little desire to make a full-time return. He’s enjoying his life too much for that, spending time with his girlfriend and his dogs, and occasionally jumping in a race car. Why change that?
Thinking left field: does McLaren resolve this problem in the same way it appeased Alonso, by dipping into IndyCar and finding a Honda-associated driver? Does it decide to place all of its chips on the future, and pick Formula 3 junior Lando Norris, widely perceived as Britain’s next great F1 star, to partner Stoffel Vandoorne? Or will the heritage, prestige, and resources McLaren still undeniably boasts prove attractive to an experienced head on the existing grid?
The driver market for next year is going to be a strange one to work out. Unlike the all-out mayhem in the midfield teams that was expected last year – and only really arrived when Nico Rosberg hung up his helmet – this one will be a trickle-down market.
Once Ferrari and Mercedes make their first moves, then the rest will follow – but don’t leave it too late, or you’ll be the team to pick up the scraps and get a line-up you never really wanted.
Red Bull Formula 1 drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen saw their emotions flip from post-qualifying to post-race in Monaco as the team picked up its third podium finish of the year.
Ricciardo’s usual smiley demeanor was absent after he qualified fifth on Saturday, having felt Red Bull was capable of more, while Verstappen – just one place ahead in P4 – said the result was the maximum the team could have hoped for.
In the race, though, the tables turned. Ricciardo crossed the line third, content to be best of the rest behind the dominant Ferraris, while Verstappen was left irked by Red Bull’s strategy call costing him position.
Verstappen had spent the early part of the race running fourth behind Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, prompting Red Bull to try and get the undercut by pitting the Dutchman early.
Mercedes reacted just one lap later and pitted Bottas, bringing the Finn back out ahead of Verstappen on-track.
Ricciardo, who had been fifth, was finding more and more time on his ultra-soft tires after being dropped into clear air, while Bottas and Verstappen were left to toil in traffic, losing chunks of time in the process.
Ricciardo came in six laps after his teammate and was able to get back out a comfortable third, gaining two places with the overcut, much to Verstappen’s frustration.
Verstappen: "Daniel's ahead?" Engineer: "Yes, Daniel jumped us in the stop" Verstappen: "What the ****. What a ******* disaster"#F1onNBC
Despite a late-race brush with the barrier following the safety car restart, Ricciardo was able to hold on to third place ahead of Bottas and Verstappen, going some way to make up for his qualifying disappointment.
“I’m much happier today. I can’t obviously complain how it worked out and I have to thank the team. It was cool to show some pace today and we had that clear track,” Ricciardo said.
“I didn’t think the tires had that much more but I just got into that rhythm, was able to punch out some good times. I knew the pace was right, my engineer was encouraging me on the radio saying: ‘Pace is really good. Keep going, keep going!’ That was certainly motivating and my thanks to the homies.
“After the safety car it was pretty unexpected when I touched the wall as I didn’t brake late or anything, I felt I was quite cautious, but then when I turned I thought the car isn’t turning, I then hit the wall and thought I damaged the front wing or something.
“But in the end it was OK. I’m just happy to be back on the podium to be honest. That was definitely the icing on the cake and is a reward for myself and the team.”
Verstappen trotted back to his garage after the race with his helmet still on and delayed meeting the media after the race so he had time to calm down, having felt he had lost a sure-fire podium shot.
“It is very disappointing after such a clean weekend where everything has gone really well to then feel I lost out on a podium, but I guess that is racing,” Verstappen said.
“I tried everything I could to get close to Bottas, you can say we stopped too early or should have gone longer but that is always easy to think after the race.
“Even after the safety car, I was on fresh, softer rubber but with the wide cars and dirty air you can’t make a move and I had no real chance of overtaking here.
“I think I did 77 laps in traffic today, that isn’t much fun and I couldn’t push but at least we finished the race which is the biggest positive from the day.”
The Australian has had an unhappy start to the season with fourth, fifth and two DNFs thus far in the opening four races. An early brake issue took him out of the race early in Sochi, the previous Grand Prix, and resigned him to being a spectator rather early on.
Today in Barcelona, Ricciardo only qualified sixth but inherited third as a result of Valtteri Bottas’ engine issue and the contact between Max Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen that took them out of the race.
So it was, then, that Ricciardo was more than a minute behind the top two but the only other car on the lead lap after 66 laps in Barcelona.
There was no podium “shoey” but Ricciardo was relieved to take what he could get and finally have a result of note this year.
“It feels good. We had a little bit of fortune today with Valtteri stopping. We were fourth otherwise,” Ricciardo said on the podium.
“For now, we’ll take all we can. It’s so nice to be on the podium again.”
Red Bull’s chassis seemed stronger in Spain but with Renault (badged as TAG Heuer for this team) not having an engine update for several more races at least, the power deficit is stretched over the length of a Grand Prix.
Verstappen, whose Spanish Grand Prix race defense went away on the first lap, said Red Bull has more work to do if it is to close that gap to Mercedes and Ferrari ahead of them.
“We still need to be faster. With three cars retiring from the top three teams, people end up on the podium,” Verstappen told NBCSN’s Will Buxton. “We’ll see in Monaco. We need to improve.”