By Abhishek Takle
SHANGHAI (Reuters) – The smile was broader than ever as Daniel Ricciardo savoured a surprise Chinese Grand Prix victory in his own inimitable fashion on Sunday.
After chugging champagne out of his sweaty boot in a trademark podium ‘shoey’ celebration as watching mechanics cheered, the beaming and slightly tearful Australian contemplated an astonishing turn of events.
“Holy Testicle Tuesday,” the 28-year-old exclaimed when asked what his reaction would have been had someone suggested in winter testing that Red Bull would win a race before champions Mercedes this season.
“A week ago I was with my head down after two laps on Sunday. Frustrated at the sport, frustrated at all the variables that are involved in the sport,” he added.
“Sometimes I question why I chose this sport because there’s so many other things out of your control and it does get you down a lot. But then when you have a day like this it’s worth 50 of those bad ones.”
Ricciardo was forced out of last weekend’s race in Bahrain after just two laps due to a problem with his power unit’s control electronics.
It was a race the Australian had gone into expecting to challenge for the win.
In the season-opener in Melbourne he was slapped with a grid penalty that took away any hope of winning in front of his home crowd. He finished fourth instead.
It looked like Ricciardo was set for another disappointing weekend in China too after a blown engine in Saturday’s final practice session almost caused him to miss qualifying.
Only a minor miracle by his hard-pressed mechanics allowed him to qualify sixth, putting Ricciardo in the right place at the right time to capitalise on the safety car that swung the race Red Bull’s way.
“Opportunity be knocking,” agreed Ricciardo.
“We didn’t think we were going to get out in qualifying and, just over 24 hours later, now to be here …this sport’s crazy.
“Two minutes later yesterday and we would have started the race today from the back…I’m super, super thankful that they helped me pull this off today.”
Sunday’s win was the sixth of Ricciardo’s career and all have been characterised by breathtaking and sometimes hairy overtaking manoeuvres, with the win taken from under the noses of others.
British television commentator and former racer Martin Brundle described him as ‘the racing burglar’ after Sunday’s exploits.
Ricciardo was at it again on Sunday, passing four times world champion Lewis Hamilton and the Briton’s Mercedes team mate with characteristic flair and in contrast to team mate Max Verstappen’s botched efforts.
“I don’t seem to win boring races, they’re all pretty fun,” he had said on the podium.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to lick the stamp and send it,” he added of the lunge on Hamilton for third place.
“They are all pretty sweet but to be honest, until I got Valtteri I wasn’t getting excited about any of them. At that point I knew that we had a car to win and I wasn’t going to be satisfied until I was in the lead.
“After Valtteri, I got on the radio and got a little bit giddy.”
(Editing by Alan Baldwin and Toby Davis)