Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo took a sensational victory in Chinese Grand Prix as a chaotic final 20 laps threw the championship wide open.
Ricciardo drove beautifully to pass five cars after Red Bull chose to pit for fresh tyres in a safety car period.
Team-mate Max Verstappen did the same – but threw away his chances with two errors caused by over-optimistic driving.
Lewis Hamilton finished a frustrated fifth, but was promoted back ahead of Verstappen, who was penalised for causing a collision with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The result means Vettel’s lead in the championship over Hamilton has been cut to 11 points, with Bottas only three behind the Briton and Ricciardo a further three behind the Finn.
How did Ricciardo do it?
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas appeared on course for an excellent victory over Vettel before the safety car period after the Finn jumped the Ferrari during their pit stops.
There will be a post-mortem at Ferrari as to how they let that happen, given Vettel was leading by more than three seconds before Bottas’ stop on lap 19 on 56, with Vettel stopping a lap later.
But the safety car threw in a curve ball and Red Bull grabbed their chance.
It was introduced so marshals could clear debris from the hairpin after a collision between Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly and Brendon Harley.
At the time, Bottas was leading from Vettel, Verstappen, Hamilton, Ricciardo and the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen, whose race had been sacrificed to try in vain to help Vettel earlier in his fight with Bottas.
Mercedes and Ferrari chose to leave their cars on medium-compound tyres that by then were about 10 laps old, but Red Bull decided to switch to fresh softs and that gave them a decisive pace advantage.
Verstappen was at this stage favourite to win, as the lead Red Bull driver, but he tried a move around the outside of Hamilton at the fast Turn Seven from too far back on lap 39 and ran off the road, letting Ricciardo past.
The Australian, who had already passed Raikkonen, then picked off Hamilton, Vettel and Bottas to clinch a stunning win.
Each move was made in his trademark style – making a hugely committed dive down the inside from a long way back, but always in total control on the edge of adhesion.
“Sometimes you just have to lick the stamp and send it,” Ricciardo said. “I don’t seem to win boring races. They are all pretty fun but that was unexpected.”
Bad moves by the top two
As the Red Bulls charged, Hamilton pointed out to his team in the pits that they had been caught out by not stopping to change what was the slowest tyre which already had significant life on it.
It was not the first time Mercedes had been caught out on strategy this season – Hamilton lost the win in the first race in Australia because of a miscalculation in the pits.
In Mercedes’ defence, Ferrari also chose not to pit, but both teams suffered as a result.
Ferrari’s decision bit Vettel particularly badly, even if it was not his fault.
More mistakes from Verstappen
The German locked a wheel going into the hairpin on lap 43 and ran a little wide. Verstappen was too far back to try a realistic move but he threw his car down the inside at the apex and slid into Vettel, earning a 10-second penalty from the stewards for causing a collision.
Before the race Verstappen’s team had reminded him not to get caught up in any incidents following a series of poor decisions in the first two races of the season.
Vettel dropped back to seventh – a position he then lost to McLaren’s Fernando Alonso with two laps to go.
With Ricciardo now untouchable, Raikkonen began to pressure Bottas for second, but the younger Finn held on.
A frustrated Hamilton was passed by Verstappen with eight laps to go but the Red Bull driver did not manage to pull out enough of a lead over the Mercedes to keep the place once his penalty was applied.
Behind him, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg drove a solid race for sixth, ahead of Alonso and an angry Vettel.
Driver of the day
No contest this – Ricciardo was stunning in the closing laps. He had a tyre advantage, yes, but he made a series of brilliant overtaking moves, and gave Verstappen a lesson in how to balance aggression with judgement.
What happens next?
There is a two-week break before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where the long, long straight is likely to leave Red Bull breathless and make Ferrari favourites. But Ricciardo won in a harum-scarum race last year, so anything could happen.
More to follow