A Lap 31 Safety Car in Sunday’s Chinese Grand Prix opened the door for Red Bull Racing to pit both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen for soft Pirelli tires following the opening round of stops.
Both drivers went on a charge from there, creating a seemingly endless string of late-race dramatics as they tried carving their way through the leading Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari cars.
Ricciardo in particular used the fresher, soft tires to his full advantage, ripping through the field and squeezing inside of then leader Valtteri Bottas in Turn 6 on Lap 45 to take his first win of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season.
Teammate Verstappen was on an equally furious charge, but his race went wrong on Lap 43 when he tried a last-second dive inside of Sebastian Vettel in the Turn 14 hairpin, resulting in contact and spins for both cars. They continued on, but Verstappen was handed a 10-second time penalty for initiating the contact, while Vettel slipped back to eighth at the race’s end.
Vettel led off the start from Bottas, Verstappen, Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, and Ricciardo, with the order remaining largely unchanged until the first pit stops began.
Bottas managed to jump ahead of Vettel by pitting earlier – he pitted on Lap 19, while Vettel pitted one lap later – while Raikkonen ran longer on his stint. However, that strategy ultimately cost Raikkonen, as he emerged in sixth after he pitted on Lap 28, behind Bottas, Vettel, Vertsappen, Hamilton, and Ricciardo.
The second-half dramatics kicked off on Lap 30, with the Scuderia Toro Rosso teammates getting together in the Turn 14 hairpin as Pierre Gasly tried a dive inside of Brendon Hartley. The two made contact, sending Hartley into a spin and spreading debris all over the track.
The incident necessitated a Safety Car to clean the circuit, and the Red Bull team used it as a chance to change strategies and pit for new tires – both Ricciardo and Verstappen took on the soft compound Pirellis, while the other leaders stayed out, having changed to mediums on their initial pit stops.
The battle for victory commenced following a Lap 36 restart, with Ricciardo immediately going on the attack. He got by Raikkonen for fifth in Turn 14 one lap later, and moved around Verstappen when he drifted wide and briefly into a runoff area after trying to pass Hamilton.
Ricciardo then set his sights on Hamilton himself, getting the four-time world champion with a lunge up the inside in Turn 14 to take third on Lap 40. Two laps later, he drafted by Vettel for second on the long back straightaway, and took aim at Bottas for the lead from there.
It was inevitable that Ricciardo would catch Bottas for the lead before the race ended, and he made quick work of the Mercedes driver on Lap 45, squeezing up the inside in Turn 6 to take the lead, which he held from there to take the win.
Bottas held off a late challenge from Raikkonen for second, while Verstappen crossed the line fourth, but was demoted to fifth because of his penalty. That vaulted Hamilton into fourth in the official results.
Renault Sport F1 Team’s Nico Hulkenberg was sixth, followed by McLaren F1 Team’s Fernando Alonso in seventh. Vettel faded to eighth, his tires worn out after his contact and spin with Verstappen.
Carlos Sainz Jr. finished ninth in the sister Renault, and Haas F1 Team’s Kevin Magnussen finished tenth to round out the points finishers.
Vettel remains in the championship lead, with 54 points to his name through three races. Hamilton closed the gap slightly and sits on 45 points, nine back of Vettel. Bottas sits third with 40 points.
Results are below. Formula 1 takes next weekend off before the next event, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 29.