“The secret to winning is going as slowly as possible.”

Niki Lauda’s famous remark ahead of the 1984 Portuguese Grand Prix has arguably never rung truer than it did in today’s Monaco Grand Prix as Daniel Ricciardo nursed his wounded Red Bull car to victory, having suffered a mid-race power outage that made him believe he was just a few corners from retirement.

On a weekend that saw the track record at Monaco get broken in every single session, the fact this race was won by going as slowly as possible was perhaps an odd juxtaposition.

But Ricciardo didn’t care. At last, he had found the solace and redemption he needed around the streets of Monaco, two years on from one of the most gut-wrenching defeats of his career.

Driver Ratings - Monaco GP

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The loss in 2016 had been not at all by his own doing. Much like this weekend, he had dominated throughout and looked bound for victory, only for a cock-up in the pits by Red Bull to leave him to digest an agonising defeat to Lewis Hamilton. Rarely has the affable Australian seemed such a different character.

There was unfinished business for Ricciardo in Monaco. The signs from Spain were good as both he and teammate Max Verstappen flew through the final sector, but he managed to make it count when it mattered by sticking the car on pole position on Saturday with an imperious lap. In his own words, that was 50 percent of the job done. The other 50 percent came on Sunday.

Ricciardo did the hard part, holding onto his lead at the start, and quickly put some tarmac between himself and Sebastian Vettel in P2. Vettel pitted to try and get the undercut, prompting Red Bull to bring Ricciardo in earlier than scheduled to cover off the threat. Ricciardo emerged from the pits four seconds clear; it seemed to be race done.

But things soon took a twist. “I went on-throttle, and I had what felt like half the amount of power to what I was normally having,” Ricciardo explained. “I thought it was just going to drop. I basically expected my race to be over in a few corners, because it came suddenly. I was doing multiple switch changes.

“After a few laps obviously I was stressing out a bit. I asked the team ‘can we do anything about this?’ and they said ‘no, this is you for the rest of the race now’, and I could see Seb catching…”

Vettel smelled blood. The gap at the front dwindled from four seconds to not even one, allowing the Ferrari driver to make use of DRS along the main straight and pile on the pressure at the front.

 

Ricciardo may have been panicking internally, but the Red Bull pit wall was doing a good job of calming him down, telling him to keep driving smooth and to focus. But it was a much more complicated job in the cockpit as Ricciardo juggled a myriad of issues.

“I had a lot less power, so that was the obvious thing,” Ricciardo said. “The rear brakes then got very hot. I think I went 6-7 percent forwards with the brake balance, and that’s a lot. Maybe we go 1-2 percent change in the race, at least for us. We had to go a long way forward, and I had to lift a lot before braking to save the brakes and put less energy through them.

“The pace was slow with the power, the pace was slow to manage the tyres, and then the pace was slow because I was managing the brakes, hence why it felt like a very long race.”

Down on power, Ricciardo knew a bunching of the field could be disastrous for his chances. While he continued to push at the front, he was cruising enough to ensure he did not have to fight his way through the traffic. All but four drivers who finished the race did so on the lead lap, with Ricciardo only getting ahead of Sergey Sirotkin, Romain Grosjean and Stoffel Vandoorne late on. “At times I was really cruising,” Ricciardo revealed. “The circuit allows you to do that, because it’s hard to overtake. I don’t think we’ll be able to maintain that on a circuit like Montreal or something.”

Ricciardo wasn’t the only driver trying to get to the flag as slowly as possible. A high level of graining on the Ultrasoft tyres, combined with the earlier pit stops for the leaders triggered by Lewis Hamilton on Lap 12, meant that all of the top four were having to take it easy. Hamilton was arguably worst off of all, backing out of the fight at the front completely in the closing stages as he even considered a second stop. “We were just cruising around from Lap 6 maybe,” Hamilton said. “Literally cruising. It wasn’t really racing…”

Alas, for Ricciardo, he was still clamouring to try and keep his car going, all the while knowing that the smallest of mistakes would open the door for Vettel to pounce and deny him the victory that was two years in the making. Luckily for him, the Ferrari man could do little to get close enough to force an error.

“I saw the issue and was told also by radio, so that’s why I started to push. But as soon as I got too close or closer, I struggled to stay there,” Vettel said. “Whenever I got in range, especially the exit of the tunnel, I was too far off to try and get close.

“I had a couple of times DRS, but obviously the track makes it quite difficult, which is a bonus if you are ahead. With all the problems he had, he was still quicker than us.”

And so after 78 laps of intense management and smooth driving with a four-time world champion chasing him in a Ferrari, all while running some 20 km/h slower through the final sector, Ricciardo was able to cross the line and revel in a crushing victory. He had led every single part of the race weekend, as well as leading every single lap in the race.

“Give it two days, but probably when I look back at the weekend as a whole, I think it’s definitely my best weekend [in F1], my most satisfying,” Ricciardo said.

“Right now it’s still a lot to process, but once it all settles, yeah, I can probably say that. This one on the whole was probably the best weekend of my career.”

As is tradition for Red Bull victories in Monaco, Ricciardo ended the race weekend with a dive into the floaterhome’s swimming pool. He’d professed some concerns about doing so in the press conference (“I hope they filtered it, because yesterday already it was looking pretty dark and murky. I think everyone had put their feet in it…”), but there was no way he was getting away without doing so.

The road to redemption around the streets of Monaco has been a hard one for Daniel Ricciardo. But it is difficult to think of a win in recent times that has been more richly deserved or overdue. Red Bull team boss Christian Horner called the win “un-fucking-believable” over team radio after the race, while Ricciardo’s race engineer kept saying “I can’t believe you did that…” It was certainly a win for the ages.

The only thing Ricciardo failed to achieve in Monaco? Getting Prince Albert to do a shoey. “I think it might have been a bit controversial…” was Ricciardo’s sheepish excuse.

Maybe next year, eh Daniel?

 

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