It was all thrills and spills at this year’s Belgian Grand Prix
DANIEL Ricciardo stepped up to the podium again after a scintillating and unexpected third place in Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix on the super-fast Spa Francorchamps circuit.
The Mercedes and Ferrari pairings dominated the first four places with the Red Bull Renaults of Max Verstappen and Ricciardo fifth and sixth.
But it all changed in bizarre circumstances.
Belgian-born Dutch 19-year-old wunderkind Verstappen, supported by nearly 80,000 fans who crossed the border from Holland, again overstressed his engine and retired on lap 8.
Then Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen incurred a 10-second penalty for ignoring the yellow ‘danger flags as he passed the stationery Red Bull, which left Ricciardo in a secure fourth place.
Up front, Lewis Hamilton fended off Sebastien Vettel’s Ferrari, with Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas third, some 20 seconds ahead of Ricciardo.
Then, on the 33rd of the 44 lap race, the Force Indias of Perez and Ocon resumed their lack of affection, resulting in Ocon’s front wing disintegrating and a rear tyre coming off Perez’s car.
A safety car was deployed while marshals cared the debris, which allowed the field to bunch up.
At the restart, Ricciardo, on supersoft tyres, muscled past Bottas’ Mercedes on the exit of the scary 300km/h Eau Rouge corner, as did Raikkonen.
After that, neither Finn could catch the Ricciardo, who put in a great drive on the 7km undulating circuit through the spectacular Ardennes forests to claim his sixth podium of the season.
Hamilton took his fifth win with championship points leader Vettel second, 2.3sec behind.
Fifth, behind Raikkonen’s Ferrari, came a dismayed Bottas, followed by Nico Hulkenberg after a fine drive in the Renault, with Romain Grosjean (Haas) seventh and the veteran Felipe Massa saving face for Williams with an eighth place in an underperforming car.
Ninth and 10th were Esteban Ocon and Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso).
“It’s always nice to get a podium for sure,” Ricciardo said from the podium where he thanked the Dutch fans, who he said were naturally disappointed, then led the crowd in repeated, noisy Mexican waves.
“Max had a problem and then Kimi made his mistake with the yellow flag so we gained a few positions,” the Perth racing ace said.
“We showed a more respectable pace today and then we had an opportunity under the safety car with the re-start and took the most of that, so I’m really happy with the result.
“I definitely feel for Max. It’s frustrating for this to happen at his home race.”
Verstappen, who was heard to exclaim “I can’t believe this,” when his car died early in the race, said he was “extremely disappointed” but would go away and regroup and return with a positive attitude next week.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner described Ricciardo’s performance as “a fantastic piece of opportunistic driving.”
“We knew Daniel would get one shot at the restart against Bottas and he made it work. He fully deserved it after he drove a phenomenal race today.
“Unfortunately it has been an enormously frustrating day for Max. “
Next is the Italian Grand Prix, on Sunday.