Ricciardo wins wild Chinese Grand Prix

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First-placed Red Bull's driver Daniel Ricciardo (2nd R) of Australia, second-placed Mercedes' Valtteri Bottas (1st L) of Finland and third-placed Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen (1st R) of Finland celebrate on the podium during the awarding ceremony of the Formula One Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai, east China, April 15, 2018. Daniel Ricciardo claimed the title of the event in 1 hour, 35 minutes and 36.380 seconds. (Xinhua/Fan Jun)

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo took a thrilling win in Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen, after a mid-race safety car period played neatly into Red Bull's tire strategy.

The second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton finished fourth after a difficult race, with the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettelonly eighth after a mid-race collision with Max Verstappen's Red Bull.

It all seemed a very unlikely eventuality after the first few laps which were decidedly soporific by comparison. At the start, Vettel held his pole position and moved to cover off Raikkonen, who dropped to fourth. The German quickly built up a lead of 2.5 seconds over Bottas, with Max Verstappen close behind in third, the Dutchman having made up two places thanks to the extra grip of his softer compound tires. Lewis Hamilton dropped back to fifth, as the first portion of the race passed without much incident.

Hamilton stopped for tires on lap 19, his team ordering him to do the opposite to Raikkonen in the hope of leapfrogging the Finn after his tire stop. The Briton rejoined just ahead of Daniel Ricciardo, who had been the first of the top six drivers to make a tire change.

Bottas stopped on the following lap and emerged into clear air just ahead of Verstappen. This was to prove significant, as when Vettel stopped on lap 21, Bottas had done enough to edge ahead of the German, his team congratulating him on a job well done and imploring him to now stay ahead of the Ferrari.

Bottas and Vettel soon closed on Raikkonen, who had not yet pitted and now led the race, with Ferrari seemingly hoping the Finn would help back Bottas into Vettel. The Mercedes soon passed Raikkonen, but Vettel followed closely behind. It seemed the German would be within DRS range and able to challenge Bottas, but the Mercedes driver seemed to have enough to hold Vettel at bay, despite appearing to suffer from a blistered right-rear tire.

Further down the field, there was an unfortunate moment for Toro Rosso, as Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley tangled at the hairpin at the back of the circuit, damaging the Frenchman's front wing and sending the New Zealander into a spin. This incident had a significant impact on the rest of the race, as the shards of carbon fibre that were left strewn across the track caused the safety car to be deployed on lap 32.

Thinking quickly, Red Bull immediately called both their drivers in for new tires. Significantly, Verstappen and Ricciardo were able to rejoin in fourth and sixth places with new softer rubber, and with the pack now tightly bunched, the Red Bulls seemed ideally placed to challenge the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers who were now on older and harder tires.

The top six drivers held their positions at the restart, with Bottas soon establishing a two-second lead over Vettel. Ricciardo took advantage of his fresh rubber to outbrake Raikkonen at the hairpin, taking fifth place. Also newly shod, Verstappen was looking punchy too, and tried a move on Hamilton down the outside of turn two. The Briton held firm though, forcing the Dutchman into evasive action.

Ricciardo was driving like a man possessed, braking almost impossibly late to squeeze past Hamilton at the hairpin on lap 40. The Red Bull team could not conceal their delight, imploring the Australian to now challenge Vettel for second spot. Verstappen also soon overtook Hamilton, who seemed unable to keep pace with the frontrunners.

It got better for Ricciardo on lap 42, as he made a DRS-assisted move past Vettel to move up to second. His teammate Verstappen soon unsuccessfully attempted to follow suit and the two cars touched, dropping the Dutchman to fifth and Vettelto seventh. The race stewards ruled that it was an overly optimistic move from Verstappen, and hit the Red Bull with a 10-second time penalty.

While all this was going on, Ricciardo was relentlessly hunting down Bottas, and he clinically passed the Mercedes to take the lead on lap 45. His newer tires clearly working well, the Australian soon pulled away from the Finn into a lead he was not to lose, setting fastest lap in the process.

Verstappen was still going and soon took overtook Hamilton for the second time to retake fourth place, though his time penalty meant the Dutchman ultimately finished in fifth place.

As the drivers reeled off the closing laps with Ricciardo looking serene at the front, the main on-track interest was the battle for second place, with Bottas closely followed by Raikkonen and Verstappen.

Further down the field, Vettel was obviously suffering with a damaged car, as Fernando Alonso squeezed past the German on lap 55 to take seventh place, with the Ferrari driver complaining of having been pushed off the track.

Elsewhere, Renault's Nico Hulkenberg finished a fine sixth, with teammate Carlos Sainz ninth and Haas driver Kevin Magnussen rounding out the top ten.

Ultimately, though, the day belonged to Ricciardo, and while his sixth Grand Prix win may have been aided by a favorable safety car period, his consummate drive to victory was littered with a series of clinical overtaking moves, and was all the more satisfying after an engine failure on Saturday limited his running earlier in the weekend. On the winner's podium after the race, the Australian celebrated with his customary "shoey" to the delight of the waiting fans.

The Formula 1 circus moves to Azerbaijan in two weeks' time for Round 4, with the 2018 season shaping up to be one of the closest in recent years, as Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull look set to duke it out all year long.

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