“I’m losing power.” What must Daniel Ricciardo have felt when reporting those three words to his Red Bull team, with more than half the race still to run? Surely he couldn’t lose a second Monaco win in three years? Fortunately, lady luck was with the Australian this time, allowing him to finally clinch the trophy he so dearly craved.
After an impeccable performance in which he brilliantly overcame being restricted to just six of his eight gears, Ricciardo crossed the line just 7.3 seconds clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, with Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton completing the podium to retain his championship lead.
Ricciardo’s drive was an epic that will live long in the memory, and one that could hardly have been imagined as he led cleanly away from pole, comfortably holding off an attack from Vettel into Ste Devote. The entire field got through that first turn cleanly, filtering up the hill to Casino Square.
Ricciardo was able to control the pace at the front, with the hypersoft tyres holding on well, but Mercedes rolled the dice and opted to bring Hamilton in early, fitting the reigning world champion with the purple-walled ultrasoft tyres.
Vettel was the next to pit, with Ricciardo reacting the following lap and rejoining in the lead, just ahead of Vettel with Hamilton in second. With most expecting to do a one-stopper, Ricciardo looked to have the race in the bag.
But it wouldn’t be as simple as that. Vettel was suddenly on Ricciardo’s tail. The Australian had lost power. His team investigated the problem and while they identified what it was, they told Ricciardo it wouldn’t get any better.
Fortunately for Ricciardo, overtaking is very difficult at Monaco and the Red Bull driver had just about enough pace to keep Vettel behind. However, it allowed the rest of the pack to close up, with Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Valtteri Bottas narrowing the gap – just eight seconds separated them in the race’s final stages.
Further back, the Grand Prix was coming alive, courtesy of a recovering Max Verstappen and Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault, both who were able to run very deep into the race after starting on the more durable ultrasoft tyres. That meant they could fit the hypersofts for the final stint.
On Verstappen’s Red Bull, which started last after he failed to set a time in qualifying, the pink-walled tyres were delivering lap times that were at times four seconds quicker than anyone else. Such was his pace, he smashed the lap record.
That pace hauled him into the points, the Dutchman sliding past Carlos Sainz around the outside on the approach to the chicane to snatch ninth. But that was as good as it got.
Raikkonen crossed the line fourth, ahead of Bottas with Esteban Ocon converting a strong qualifying into a ‘best-of-the-rest’ sixth place for Force India. Pierre Gasly threw his hat into the ring for Driver of the Day – an honour that ultimately went to Ricciardo – with a stunning drive in the Toro Rosso.
The Frenchman made the hypersofts last, at a good pace, for nearly half the race, allowing him to move up to seventh. He then drove brilliantly on the supersofts to defend from Hulkenberg to maintain that position. Sainz completed the top 10.
There was drama late on as Charles Leclerc clattered into the back of Brendon Hartley exiting the tunnel on the run to the chicane. The Sauber driver, who reported no brakes, skated into the escape road and retired. Hartley recovered to the pits, but the significant damage to his rear wing meant he could not rejoin.
After a brief Virtual Safety Car period, Vettel began drifting back from Ricciardo to finally release the pressure on the Australian, with Hamilton well down the road in third.
Fernando Alonso failed to see the chequered flag for the first time this season when he pulled up at Ste Devote with smoke emanating from the rear of his car on Lap 53 of the 78.
It was a miserable day for Williams, too. Sergey Sirotkin ran 12th early on but picked up a 10-second stop-go penalty for a wheel infringement on the grid, while Lance Stroll suffered two punctures, one of which was caused when he collided with Marcus Ericsson on the opening lap. They were the last classified finishers, more than a lap down.
But the day belonged to Ricciardo and Red Bull, who banished the memories of 2016, when a pit stop error cost the Australian victory here. He still hasn’t had an easy win – each of his now seven F1 triumphs have been challenging – but he won’t care. The Monaco victory is finally his.
Formula 1 makes its first trip over the Atlantic for 2018 as the drivers and teams head for the Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 8-10. Let’s hope the track’s notorious ‘Wall of Champions’ doesn’t give any of them sleepless nights during the two-week run-up to the race.