DANIEL Ricciardo had the enthusiastic Marina Bay crowd cheering with excitement as he rapidly closed in on race leader Nico Rosberg in the Singapore Grand Prix – but it would have needed one more lap for the Perth Formula One star to snatch victory.
The Red Bull Renault driver finished behind Rosberg’s Mercedes after whittling the German’s 27-second lead down to just 0.488 of a second in one of the most enthralling finishes of the year.
The last 12 laps of the 61-lap race – the longest and most physically draining of the series – were the climax of a tumultuous event.
It started with carnage when Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India was destroyed after being tagged by Carlos Sainz’s Toro Rosso and the debris punctured a tire of the Valtteri Bottas’ Williams.
Tyre strategy again played a major part in the race.
Mercedes elected to gamble with Rosberg’s tyres lasting for the last 25 laps, while Red Bull took advantage of pit stops by closest opponents Kimmi Raikkonen and Lewis Hamilton, to also dive in for a new set of super-soft rubber.
Ricciardo rejoined without losing his place and set about hunting down Rosberg’s Mercedes in the final 12 laps.
His superior grip let him gain about two seconds a lap on Rosberg, but he fell just half a second shy.
The following duo swapped places with Mercedes making a quicker tyre stop than Ferrari, which cost Raikkonen the third place he’d held for much of the race.
Next came Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel, who put in a sterling drive to carve a path through the field for fifth place after starting from 22nd.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was sixth after a feisty battle with Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat, who eventually ended up ninth.
Fernando Alonso put the McLaren-Honda into seventh place after an entertaining scrap with Sergio Perez, who also did well, coming from 17th on the grid to claim eighth position in the surviving Force India.
Kevin Magnussen was a beneficiary of the first lap chaos and steered his Renault to tenth place, giving the team its first points since the Russian Grand Prix.
In other happenings, Jenson Button retired his McLaren with technical problems, as did Romain Grosjean, whose Haas expired even before it reached the start line.
On the podium, the exhausted drivers showered each other with champagne – more so to cool their bodies in the tropical heat.
They had averaged 259km/h thought the race.
Crowd favourite Ricciardo was delighted with this performance, despite the extremely close finish.
“I’m not going to stand up here and be disappointed,” he told podium host Martin Brundle.
“It was a difficult race, absolutely. But we gave it a shot. It was close, and at least we made it exciting.
‘I don’t really leave here with any regrets. Obviously we came here to win and we didn’t, but I felt we left it all on the track.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said it was “a really exciting finish” to a long and hard grand prix.
“Daniel drove an outstanding race to split the two Mercedes.
“Overall a positive weekend, we’ve extended our lead over Ferrari in the Constructors’ Championship and we’ve scored another second place finish, producing an enthralling grand prix in the process.”
Next grand prix is in Malaysia on October 2.