With the spectre of his 2016 Monaco Grand Prix defeat hanging heavy over him, Daniel Ricciardo didn’t dare allow himself to dream of victory around the famous principality’s streets.
If you believe in karma, it would be tempting to assume that Monte Carlo owed Ricciardo for 2016, when his own team made a series of pit stop blunders that lost him the race to Lewis Hamilton, but sentiment plays no part Formula One’s blue ribband event.
So it was that Ricciardo kept his emotions strictly in check as he went about setting the foundations for his long-awaited redemption story, never allowing himself to believe that victory would be anything other than earnt.
He dominated all three practice sessions and stormed to only his second career pole position with foreboding ease, but still the Australian cut a restrained figure. Starting from the front row is half the battle given the difficulty of overtaking around Monaco’s serpentine streets, but nothing would be taken for granted this weekend.
However, even the cautious Ricciardo could have been forgiven for thinking he was finally in the clear when his sole pit stop on lap 17 went off without a hitch, keeping him in the lead ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel — but winning the Monaco Grand Prix is never quite so easy.
“Losing power,” he said mutedly over team radio on lap 18. His MGU-K — the part of the engine that recovers and deploys electrical energy from the brakes — had failed, leaving him around 160 horsepower down on the pursuing Vettel, who closed the previously healthy gap down to less than a second.
Without the energy recovery system the car became markedly more difficult to drive around a circuit that demands perfection. The rear brakes, no longer being harvested for heat, soared perilously in temperature, necessitating a dramatic change to the brake balance and far more gentle inputs, which in turn made keeping the heat in the tyres substantially harder.
It was a recipe for disaster that threatened to end Ricciardo’s race.
“I wanted to close my eyes and start crying,” he later told Sky Sports. “I thought that was it, that my race was over.”
But instead Ricciardo struggled on, acing his corner exits to prevent Vettel from taking advantage of his lack of straight-line speed, which was more than 20 kilometres per hour down on the Ferrari, enough to render seventh and eighth gears effectively useless.
The race settled into a tense rhythm, an excruciating final trial that could have gone wrong at any moment, with an ever-likely safety car a certainty to take a deserved victory away from the Australian a second time.
But with three laps to go, Ricciardo let himself believe.
“I got it, buddy,” he told the pit wall, and four minutes later he scored a career-defining victory.
“I think I can show more emotion today than yesterday!” he said after the race. “I finally feel like the redemption has arrived.”
The result promoted Ricciardo to third in the drivers standings behind Sebastian Vettel and title leader Lewis Hamilton, the triumvirate sharing two wins apiece after finishing second and third respectively behind the race winner.
The Australian remains a distant 38 points off the lead, however, but promised Renault power unit upgrades for the next round in Canada could deliver Ricciardo and Red Bull Racing, currently hamstrung by the French manufacturer’s underpowered engines, into genuine title contention.
“It’s not impossible but not really at the forefront of my mind yet,” Ricciardo hedged.
After a champion drive and still without a 2019 contract, the Australian will need more convincing of his team’s credentials before he allows himself to believe he’s a shot for Formula One’s greatest prize.