Daniel Ricciardo took advantage of a tactical masterstroke by his Red Bull team to win in Shanghai after championship leader Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen dramatically collided during a thrilling Chinese Grand Prix.
Valtteri Bottas appeared on course to claim his victory after a strategy error by Ferrari allowed the Mercedes car to move ahead of Vettel during their one and only round of pit stops.
But the race took a second dramatic twist when the safety car was deployed following a coming-together between the Toro Rosso pair of Brendon Hartley and Pierre Gasly on lap 31.
Unlike their rivals, Ricciardo and Verstappen dived into the pits to take on fresh rubber, and the gamble worked for Ricciardo as he passed Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Vettel and finally Bottas for a quite remarkable win.
Here, we take a look at some of the big takeaways from Shanghai.
Starting from P6, the Australian produced a majestic performance for his first win of the season – a week after retiring on the second lap in Bahrain.
The 28-year-old has endured a frustrating campaign to date, with a fourth-place finish in Australia adding to his woes in the Gulf.
But the Perth man looked inspirational in China, going from P6 to first in a matter of laps after benefitting from fresh tyres during the safety car.
He came out of nowhere to overtake Hamilton, and then passed Sebastian Vettel on lap 42. With little space on the inside, he swept past Bottas for the move of the day on lap 45 to inch closer to victory.
With his teammate Max Verstappen finishing fifth, it proved to be a successful weekend for Red Bull.
Hamilton off colour
Not one of those race Sunday’s we are normally accustomed to seeing the Briton light up. He was not in the finest moods and sounded low on the radio all afternoon.
Quick across FP1 and FP2, the Briton was out-qualified by the two Ferraris and his teammate Valtteri Bottas, resulting in P4 on the grid.
But from the opening lap, the 33-year-old struggled to fire and despite pushing Kimi Raikkonen for brief spells, he failed to challenge for a podium place.
And with Mercedes’ poor decision-making on not pitting during the safety car, Hamilton had no grip to defend Verstappen and Ricciardo, and subsequently finished fourth.
The four-time world champion now trails Vettel by nine points in the championship race and needs to up his display in Baku to prevent the German from gaining more ground in the title race.
The Dutchman is clearly one of the most talented drivers on the gird, but based on recent performances, he is just too error strewn.
After retiring on the first lap in Bahrain, the 19-year-old looked to have returned to his blistering form of old when surging into fourth place on lap 39.
However, a failed attempt to overtake Hamilton resulted in him losing time and then his death-defying hit on Vettel ensued in a 10-second penalty.
Although he secured fifth place, he could have achieved a podium if not for his incosistencies.
Bottas steps up
After the criticism of his lack of killer instinct on the final laps in Bahrain last week when he failed to challenge Vettel, the Finn responded to show his class in China with a second place finish.
He held second on lap 21 when benefiting from Vettel’s slow pitstop, and seized the lead briefly on lap 26 when overtaking Kimi Raikkonen.
With 11 laps remaining, Ricciardo snatched victory from Bottas on his fresher tyres.
Although he may be disappointed not to taste a win, he did extremely well to defend from Vettel and Raikonnen for long spells of the race.
Red Bull thinking ahead of the game
Red Bull’s pitwall and tacticians are levels above any other team on the grid and this was highlighted in the late call to pit when the safety car was deployed on lap 31.
To have fresher tyres available to push to the end of the race was instrumental in helping Ricciardo’s remarkable push to victory and Verstappen’s fifth place.
After their disappointments in Australia and Bahrain, two top-five finishes this weekend will boost serious confidence ahead of the next race in Baku on April 29.
Hero to zero in seven days
After milking the plaudits for his virtuous fourth place in Bahrain, Pierre Gasly finished 17th and was the cause of a crash with his teammate Brendon Hartley on lap 31.
And after an investigation from the FAI, the Rouen native received a 10-second penalty for causing the collision in the hairpin turn.
The 22-year-old Frenchman is clearly a talented driver and with it being his first full season in F1, it’s easy to cut him some slack for some immaturity behind the wheel.
Hamilton dominated practice here yesterday, but the Mercedes cars had no answer to Ferrari in qualifying with Sebastian Vettel leading a front-row lockout ahead of team-mate Kimi Raikkonen for the second weekend in succession.
Vettel, who already holds a 17-point lead over Hamilton following victories at the opening two races, saw off the challenge from Raikkonen to edge out the Finn with a dramatic last lap.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas lines up in third.
Mercedes have dominated in China in recent years. Indeed, you have to go back seven years for the last time a silver-coloured car failed to line up on the front spot.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 14, 2018
But here, Hamilton struggled for pace on Saturday, spinning during the morning practice session, before qualifying behind Bottas for the second time in as many races.
Hamilton was the best part of half-a-second down on Vettel, who will be the favourite to convert his pole into a third victory and extend his championship lead.
“I was happy with the whole lap,” said Vettel who finished just 0.087 seconds clear of Raikkonen. “The car was amazing and just kept getting better.
“I lost the rear of the car on my first lap so I was a bit beaten up, but I know if I get a tidy lap and have a bit of magic I could push it.”
Daniel Ricciardo faced a race against time to be ready for qualifying after his engine blew up in dramatic fashion in final practice. But following frantic work by his Red Bull crew, the Australian emerged from his garage with only minutes of Q1 remaining.
Ricciardo, whose Bahrain Grand Prix lasted less than two laps last Sunday following an electrical shutdown on his car, posted a lap just good enough to squeeze through to the next phase.
The Australian then qualified sixth which will come as a relief to both Ricciardo and his Red Bull team following their under-performing start to the new season. Max Verstappen will start one place ahead of his team-mate.
INITIAL CLASSIFICATION (Q3)
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 14, 2018
On the topic of Formula One’s under-performers, it proved to be yet another qualifying to forget for McLaren, with Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne again 13th and 14th.
The British team expected to be challenging Red Bull following their switch to Renault power, but they have failed to make progress over the winter and on the basis of their early-season form are only seventh of the 10 teams in F1’s pecking order.
The race in Bahrain marked McLaren’s 100th appearance without a victory and they appear further away from winning than ever before.
The failure of Britain’s biggest F1 teams has become a depressing theme this season with the two Williams cars again falling at the first hurdle. Sergey Sirotkin and Lance Stroll qualified 16th and 18th.
As the Formula One season rolls in Shanghai this weekend, Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas undoubtedly enter the race with contrasting emotions after their battle during the final laps of the Bahrain Grand Prix last Sunday.
Vettel will be in buoyant mood, having pushed his soft tyres to the max for 39 laps in an all-round composed performance to take his second win of the season in Sakhir.
But for Bottas, who effectively bottled his chance to victory and make the most of his stronger tyres over the German’s faded rubber, doubts will have resurfaced in his mind.
While Vettel may have provided a defensive masterclass in holding off Bottas’ late attack, it bodes the question as to what the result would have been if it had been Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen on Daniel Ricciardo charging down the Ferrari driver in those final frenetic laps?
The Finn is clearly a talented driver but has so far lacked the killer-instinct in those pressurised situations that can often be the tipping point between winning and losing.
It’s easy to speculate as to what the result would have been otherwise, but as we head to Shanghai, Vettel holds a 17-point cushion at the top of the drivers’ standings after just two rounds.
Bottas – with three race wins in 2017 – may have outpaced his Mercedes team-mate Hamilton in qualifying last weekend, but overall, he lacks that zip and aggression to seriously challenge for a world title.
If he had attempted to go on the inside against Vettel on that final lap, could the Finn’s name have been etched on the winner’s trophy last Sunday evening? We’ll never know – but it is in these high-pressure moments you see a driver’s true quality.
The 28-year-old clearly wants to win a world title and has the car at his disposal to get the best out of himself, but at this level, you need a special spark to turn talent into trophies.
Time, this season anyway, is on Bottas’ side. There are still 19 races to go in the season and a lot can change. While he may not have been able to pass Vettel in Bahrain, Bottas proved he has the pace and that will give him confidence ahead of this weekend’s race in China.
Vettel, of course, finds himself in a similar position to last season, in which he looked flawless for the opening rounds of the championship. But he’ll have an extra pep in his step in China knowing the Ferrari is more reliable and competitive this time around.
Quick across the pre-season, the 30-year-old will hope his form over the last three weeks is the building block to a successful season – with Hamilton in the shadows aiming to deny him a fifth world title.
Bottas may just be another challenger in the race between the duo, but he has the chance to make the most of this season in an ultra-fast car, and compete consistently against perhaps two of the greatest drivers of the past decade in Hamilton and Vettel.
The gap between Vettel and Bottas’ cars may have been close as they crossed the line in Bahrain on Sunday, but the Finn will perhaps be left wondering if he will ever be able to reach the levels of the German and his Mercedes team-mate.