MALAYSIA was a happy place for Daniel Ricciardo yesterday when he secured his fourth Formula 1 career victory – and had his biggest shoey – after a dramatic 56 laps on the Sepang circuit.
Ricciardo started fourth on the grid, behind the dominant Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, and alongside his Red Bull teammate, Max Verstappen.
But the Perth driver was placed second, behind Hamilton, after a major incident the first corner of the first lap.
A fast-starting Sebastien Vettel tried to barge his Ferrari to the front, pushing Verstappen wide and then running into the back of Rosberg’s Mercedes.
The impact sent the Mercedes into a spectacular smoky spin, which dropped Rosberg from second to 21st, and villain Vettel’s Ferrari ended up with a broken front suspension.
Ricciardo benefited from the chaos and remained behind Hamilton until lap 41, when the Mercedes’ engine suddenly expired in a rocket-like ball of flame.
Three seconds astern of Ricciardo was Verstappen, who had earlier tried to pass Ricciardo, resulting in one of the most exciting dices of the race.
The young Dutch driver drew alongside Ricciardo on two occasions, but never got by.
Nico Rosberg put in an exceptional effort to fight his way back from the tail end of the field to finish third, thus extending his lead to 23 points with five races to go.
He brushed the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen en route to third and collected a 10-second penalty, but it did not affect his podium finish.
Hamilton, who seemed set for another win which would let him overtake teammate Rosberg in the Driver’s Championship, gave an anguished “oh no, no!” on the team radio as his car, and maybe his title hopes, went up in smoke.
Ricciardo was quite emotional on the podium as the Australian anthem was played.
“I’m exhausted,” Ricciardo said.
“It’s such a hot race here. It has been pretty emotional two years since the last win and we have come so close this year.
“Two weeks ago I said we’d win one and here we go.”
When the champagne arrived, he did his now traditional shoey, removing one of his racing shoes and drinking the bubbly from it.
But he also made team principal Christian Horner, Verstappen, Rosberg and even podium compere Mark Webber have a swig from the Puma receptacle before Webber tossed it into the crowd, where it immediately became a prized souvenir.
Later, Ricciardo said he wanted to thank his parents and his sister for his ‘good upbringing’ and said he wanted to dedicate his win to Jules Bianchi, the young French driver who died after a crash in the Japanese Grand Prix two years ago.
“I’ve been waiting for a victory and waiting to dedicate this to him,” Ricciardo said.
“My life definitely changed after that incident. I’m extremely grateful and appreciative of everything that I’ve got. I’ll dedicate this to him.
“This was probably the sweatiest race to win and do a shoey. I felt a bit sorry for the others though having to drink from my shoe, but the crowd was encouraging me.
“We had an opportunity today that we needed to capitalise on and I was determined to not let it go.
“We had a good battle with Max; he is a hard racer and we have that in common.
“We fought hard and aggressive but I think we showed we can push to the limit but still keep it on the track.
“We had a fair and clean fight and we both enjoyed it.”
The other top 10 finishers at Malaysia were Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, who took fifth place, with Force India’s Sergio Perez next and Fernando Alonso had a brilliant drive in his McLaren-Honda, finishing seventh after starting from the back of the grid.
Eighth was Nico Hulkenberg in the other Force India, with Alonso’s McLaren teammate Jenson Button ninth in the Englishman’s 300th Grand Prix.
The last championship point, and the first in his career, was taken by Renault’s Jolyon Palmer.
Red Bull Renault team principal Christian Horner described the race as “unbelievable”.
“To achieve a first and second in the Malaysian Grand Prix was beyond our wildest expectations,” he said.
“Our drivers were racing each other firmly but fairly, the only instruction from the team was to keep it clean. We saw some great racing; at one point side by side and Daniel had just enough in hand to maintain a margin and complete a Red Bull Racing one-two finish, our first since Brazil 2013.”
The next Grand Prix is at Suzuka, Japan, on October 9.