Daniel Ricciardo’s victory for Red Bull against sudden massive odds in the 76th Monaco Grand Prix will be remembered not for his hot pace but for his cool head.
Race leader Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull RB14 was running to perfection when it suddenly lost 25% of its power beginning on Lap 19 of the 78-lap race. His Renault engine’s MGU-K and two top gears failed and Ricciardo cooly set about adapting to the power loss even while still maintaining a minimum one-second lead over Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari. Remarkably, this gap remained for the majority of the race as the Aussie seemed to pull a miracle out of his hat, or perhaps his “shoey” to win by 7.3-seconds. Vettel hung on to finish second, regaining critical points from current championship leader Lewis Hamilton who finished 17-seconds back in third place and has now scored in 31 consecutive races, extending his record.
It was Ricciardo’s second Grand Prix victory this season and the seventh of his career. Significantly, on the day of Red Bull winning its 250th Grand Prix, Daniel Ricciardo moved ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen for third place in the 2018 driver’s championship standings, leaving Monaco just 38 points behind Lewis Hamilton. The Aussie’s win suggests that the driver’s title could be up for grabs in 2018.
Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull dominated every practice and qualifying session of the weekend and set the all-time quickest lap of the circuit to take pole position in Q3. The Circuit de Monaco has one of the shortest runs up to Turn 1 on the calendar, but Ricciardo assumed a clean lead into the turn which he held to the finish, but his victory was far from easy; in fact, at one point Red Bull engineers moved to retire his car. However, cooler heads prevailed, led by the coolest of them all, Daniel Ricciardo.
Starting on Lap 19, Ricciardo reported a significant loss of power; his two top gears would not engage, and his engine’s MGU-K energy recovery unit had failed, causing him to be 20 km/h slower down the straights and to overheat his rear brakes as well. The failures allowed Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari and Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes to close in on his RB14 immediately.
Ricciardo responded by calmly following his technicians’ suggestions of switch position changes on his steering wheel to bypass the power drain. Once the performance loss was mitigated, Ricciardo revised his race plan and altered his driving style to cope.
Mercedes sensed an opening and pounced, pitting Hamilton first of the front-runners, and making the switch to ultrasoft tyres at the end of Lap 11, thereby bringing up the option of a two-stop race for the four-time World Champion. Hamilton re-entered the race behind Force India’s Esteban Ocon in sixth place, but Hamilton took the position after a couple of laps at the Nouvelle Chicane. Ocon, a Mercedes junior driver, also made it easy for Bottas to pass later in the race.
Later, other drivers started having failures of their own. Vettel’s steering wheel display went blank on Lap 39, and Fernando Alonso’s points hopes evaporated on Lap 53 with an ERS problem in his Renault power unit. His McLaren abandoned seventh place and pulled over at Sainte Devote.
Despite Ricciardo’s power disadvantage, he maintained a minimum one-second lead over the Ferrari for the majority of the race.
On Lap 72, Charles Leclerc’s Sauber Alfa Romeo had rear brake failure, colliding with Brendon Hartley as they approached the Nouvelle Chicane. They both retired and triggered the virtual safety car to clear collision debris. The VSC lasted two laps, enough time for Vettel’s tyres to cool significantly. At the restart, Vettel’s Ferrari could do nothing but slide as he struggled to reheat his tyres, growing Ricciardo buffer to five-seconds over the German for the final four laps.
On Lap 77 of 78, Ricciardo radioed his race engineer, “I’ve got it, buddy”. The answer back…”I don’t know how you did that.”
Ricciardo’s Red Bull teammate, Max Verstappen should have served as his wingman during the whole episode. The young Dutchman was only a 0.001-second slower than Ricciardo in FP3, but Verstappen’s impatience got the best of him; he hit the barriers at the Swimming Pool complex and had to sit out Qualifying. Starting last on the grid, the now chastened youngster fought a more subdued race to partially recover his ruined weekend with a 2-point ninth-place finish at the checkers.
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen took fourth place, marking the first time the Finn has finished a race this season and not been on the podium.
He finished at the front of a literal chain of cars including Valtteri Bottas in fifth, Force India’s Esteban Ocon in sixth, Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly in seventh, helping Toro Rosso to their third top-eight finish in as many years at Monaco. Renault’s Niko Hulkenberg eighth place finish gave the Renault team their first points in Monaco since Robert Kubica finished third in 2010. Carlos Sainz’s second Renault took the final point in 10th place.
Grand Prix-legend Jackie Stewart held a mantra he would repeat to anyone, you must “win at the slowest possible speed”. While race fans want to see speed, teams and drivers must look at results as business and continued employment. Daniel Riccardo demonstrated his precise understanding of, and expertise in winning with the least possible stress on the machinery when your machinery’s stressed to the breaking point.
I can’t help but think Max Verstappen crashing in FP3 saved Red Bull from a massive headache today. Imagine if Verstappen had qualified on the front row as he should have, with Ricciardo still on pole, and they’d been 1-2 when Daniel lost his MGU-K. I’m curious what Red Bull would have done? Order Ricciardo to let Verstappen through? Imagine the effect the team’s decision would have had on Ricciardo, especially after 2016. The Red Bull team could have left Monaco winners, yes, but in a much more fragile condition, team-wise.
Can’t wait for Canada. Hamilton is usually lightning quick there, and Ferrari will have a much better circuit to determine if raising the upper rear uprights’ pick-ups caused the severe blistering in Barcelona. Should returning to their Baku uprights be the answer, we finally might find out who has the fastest car out of Mercedes and Ferrari.
Who believes Red Bull hasn’t been looking over Toro Rosso’s shoulder at their Honda data? The deadline to commit to either Honda or Renault power units is quickly approaching at the end of May. Would a Honda power plant in Verstappen’s Red Bull instead of a Renault have made passing Sainz and /or Hulkenberg easier?
Daniel Ricciardo hesitated to push Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner’s suggestion to have Monaco’s Prince Albert do a “shoey”. However, after witnessing Red Bull team cars crash out in Baku and Verstappen throw away a sure 1-2 in Monaco, team design legend Adrian Newey was more than ready to sample a “Newey Shoey” of his own. Salut!