Daniel Ricciardo took a thrilling victory at the Chinese Grand Prix, benefiting from a mid-race safety car to rise from sixth to first in a handful of laps, thanks to fresh tyres and brilliant passing moves. Mercedes’s Valtteri Bottas finished second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, as pole sitter Sebastian Vettel dropped to eighth place following a collision with the second Red Bull of Max Verstappen.
At the start Vettel made a slightly slow getaway and as Räikkönen got away well, the German moved right to cover his team-mate. That allowed Bottas to go around the outside of the Finn and steal second place.
Behind them Verstappen made an excellent start from fifth place and was quickly past Hamilton through Turn 1 as the Briton tried to attack Räikkönen. Verstappen then closed on the Ferrari driver and made a good move past the Finn to take third by the end of the first lap.
The first stint saw Vettel etch out a lead of more than four seconds over Bottas, who in turn built up a five-second gap back to Verstappen, with Räikkönen fourth and comfortably ahead of Hamilton. The race then settled until the first round of pit stops.
Verstappen was the first of the front runners to stop, arrowing into the pit lane at the end of lap 17 to take a set of medium tyres. Seconds later he was followed by sixth-placed team-mate Daniel Ricciardo who also moved to mediums as Red Bull enacted an impressive double stop on the same lap.
The move was designed to give both drivers an opportunity to attack the Mercedes driver in front of them but when Hamilton pitted he was able to rejoin ahead of Ricciardo. It was a similar story for Verstappen whose stop failed to dent the advantage enjoyed by Bottas, who was able to pit and rejoin ahead of the Dutchman
Vettel was next in and as the German moved to medium tyres Mercedes told Bottas that he had to push as hard as possible. The Finn obliged and Vettel exited the pit lane to see Bottas sweeping past him.
The race was now led by Räikkönen who had yet to pit. As the Finn’s pace ebbed on fading tyres, Ferrari tried to use him as a bulwark, backing Bottas towards Vettel. The Mercedes driver was alive to the threat, however, and attacked, passing Räikkönen on lap 27 in the slow ‘Snail’ section of the circuit.
The complexion of the race changed moments later when the two Toro Rosso drivers collided at the hairpin, with Pierre Gasly running into the back of Brendon Hartley, scattering debris across the track.
The Safety Car was deployed and Red Bull took the decision to again double stop its drivers, this time for soft tyres. With the other front runners staying sticking with their medium tyres, it proved a decisive move.
Verstappen rejoined in fourth place behind Hamilton and Ricciardo sat in sixth behind Räikkönen, but their tyres soon gave them a pace advantage and on lap 37 Ricciardo muscled his way past Räikkönen to claim fifth. Ahead, Verstappen was pressuring Hamilton and attempted a move. Hamilton was not for moving, however, and the Red Bull driver was forced off track as the Mercedes man tightly held the racing line.
That allowed Ricciardo to move past his team-mate and take up the fight. The Australian was more decisive and dived down the inside of Hamilton into the hairpin to claim third place.
Ricciardo was now in full flight and after dismissing Vettel with relative ease he closed on leader Bottas. The Finn tried to defend as the Red Bull driver again attacked at the hairpin, but despite the gap narrowing, Ricciardo somehow slotted through and then kept control on exit to take the lead.
Behind him Verstappen was also lining up a move at the hairpin to pass Vettel. Again though it didn’t work and the pair collided, with Verstappen dropping to fifth and Vettel to seventh.
The Red Bull driver made it back to fourth past Hamilton but then was handed a 10-second time penalty by stewards for causing a collision.
In the final laps Ricciardo stretched his lead over Bottas to eight seconds, who slowly fell back towards Räikkönen. The Ferrari driver made several attempts to get past but couldn’t find a way and the flag fell with Ricciardo claiming his sixth career win ahead of Bottas and Räikkönen. Hamilton was fourth ahead of Verstappen with Hulkenberg fifth.
Vettel had held seventh until the closing stages but on the penultimate lap he was passed by Alonso in bold move that left the Ferrari driver complaining that the move was illegal. The stewards, however, ruled the pass to be a fair one. Behind the German the final points positions were taken by Sainz and Magnussen.