Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo swept to his first Grand Prix victory in Montreal yesterday after both Mercedes runners hit trouble.
The Australian made late moves on the Force India of Sergio Perez and championship leader Nico Rosberg to slip into an unlikely lead, eventually claiming the race ahead of Rosberg and his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel; the latter of whom having passed Perez shortly before the chequered flag.
It marks a popular win amongst supporters of the sport, following an engaging period of domination from the Mercedes pair. On one hand, the race fell into Ricciardo’s, but in another, the Australian’s tenacity during a tricky mid-race stint did much to nail the victory.
For a time, the race was looking like another Mercedes whitewash, with Rosberg holding off an aggressive Lewis Hamilton into the first corner – letting Vettel through into a temporary 2nd – with the wily German emerging at the head of the pack.
An early safety car period, to clear the mangled remains of the Marussia’s of Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi, closed the race for the time, but when unleashed Hamilton retook 2nd spot and began to press for the lead, soon forcing Rosberg into lock-ups and one journey through the escape road at the final chicane on lap 25, for which Rosberg received a warning.
The face of the race changed just before the second stops, when both Mercedes began to report issues with the hybrid units, robbing them of precious top end speed down Montreal’s gently curving straights, bringing the pack into the fray. Despite their hobbled nature, Hamilton continued to press Rosberg, with the former quickly retiring with expired brakes.
With one Mercedes gone, the Williams of Felipe Massa powered into view and after a brief push slipped by Rosberg to accept a brief lead, until Massa himself pitted for the last time with 20 laps remaining, bringing Perez-Ricciardo-Vettel troupe into play, but Perez too was beginning to struggle, although maintained a small gap ahead of the Renault-hamstrung Red Bull of Ricciardo…
Starting 6th, the Australian held station for much of the running, but stole a march on Vettel during the second sets of stops. Ahead the long stinting Force India’s of Perez and Nico Hulkenberg stopped on lap 35 and 42 respectively; however whereas Perez filtered out still ahead of Ricciardo and Vettel, Hulkenberg dropped in behind and out of contention.
Within a few short tours, the trio had drawn to the rear of Rosberg – this should be easy, right? Yet for all of Ricciardo’s initial pressure, the Mercedes-powered Perez held the gap, but neither could the Mexican make a move on the struggling Rosberg.
Under the covers of the Force India, Perez was beginning to suffer the first indicators of electrical and rear brake failure. There was little doubt that the Mexican had the straightline speed to hold the Red Bull’s back, but his uncertainty in the braking zones allowed Ricciardo back into the fight, creating a temporary stalemate.
Perez’ hobbling machine eventually gave Ricciardo an opportunity, with the Australian taking 2nd place around the outside of the turn one / two complex with five laps remaining, before clinging to the rear of Rosberg within a tour.
Ricciardo would need three laps to break Rosberg. As the Mercedes continued to drop speed on the straights, the Red Bull racer made use of the DRS zone on the back straight to sling past the points leader and grab the lead to the delight of the assembled Montreal crowd.
And they say timing is everything. There is some truth to it.
As lap 69 became lap 70, Vettel ran by Perez on the exit of the final chicane, which in turn gave Massa a run on the helpless Mexican, with the Brazilian making a move over the line; however where the Brazilian could have offered Perez a little extra room, it is unlikely Massa expected his rival to jink ever-so-slightly to the left.
The resultant accident was huge, as the stewards judged the Force India driver had moved into Massa on the approach to the braking zone, pitching the Williams’ man into the turn one tyre barrier, with Massa recording an impact measuring 27G.
Perez, meanwhile, had his Sauber knocked pointedly to the right and into the beginning of the tyre wall and also receiving a high G-force impact. He would later be given a five-place grid penalty for the Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in two weeks. There was further luck when the out-of-control Massa rocketed past the front of Vettel’s Red Bull, just missing the reigning world champion.
In seconds, the safety car was re-called, bringing the race to an end under yellow and solidifying Ricciardo’s victory, ahead of a relieved Rosberg and Vettel.
The crash marked an end to a significant and rather calamitous final twenty laps for Massa, who arguably lost a race victory due to a Williams team sluggish to issue team orders following his last stop.
Emerging behind former teammate Fernando Alonso, Massa slipped by the unseemly Ferrari for 7th and onto the rear of struggling teammate Valtteri Bottas, after which Massa lost eight laps attempting to line up the Finn who was – in turn – being held up by Hulkenberg.
The Brazilian finally got his way on lap 58 when Bottas ran wide at the hairpin, allowing both Massa and Alonso through, following which the Williams proved his pace by effectively driving straight passed the hobbling Hulkenberg. It took Massa approximately four laps to latch onto the Perez-Ricciardo-Vettel fight, allowing the former Ferrari man to press home only part of his fresh tyre advantage – if only he had been released eight laps earlier…
Amidst the dust of the Massa / Perez crash, an astonished Jenson Button emerged in a lucky 4th for McLaren. Such was Hulkenberg’s lack of pace, the German reversed Alonso toward Button’s lacklustre McLaren in the final laps. Where 8th would have at least been some points, a rare error by Hulkenberg in the hairpin on lap 69 caught Alonso unawares, gifting Button a clear run on both of them to give him 6th – as Massa and Perez melded into a carbon fibre melee, that 6th instantly became 4th.
With McLaren currently battling with Williams and Force India over 4th, 5th and 6th in the Constructors Championship, Button’s late promotion in the order will not go down well at either Didcot or Silverstone. The Woking crew, meanwhile, may allow themselves a wry smile.
Hulkenberg assumed 5th ahead of Alonso as the safety car settled the field, while Bottas took an unspectacular 7th. Jean-Eric Vergne was invisible on his way to 8th, although the Frenchman did manage to take the flag ahead of Kevin Magnussen (9th, McLaren) and Kimi Raikkonen (10th, Ferrari) – the Finn coming home last of the ten finishers.
The race ending safety car was not the sole period of the race, with the Grand Prix having being neutralised early when Chilton and Bianchi collided through the tightening turn three / four chicane, bringing to an end Chilton’s run of twenty-five consecutive race finishes, which began at his Grand Prix debut at Melbourne last year.
A fabulous drive and victory for Daniel Ricciardo, but for the great achievement that it represents, there is an element of flattery in the final outcome. On raw pace, the Milton Keynes-based team are still very much behind the works Mercedes pair.