Ricciardo’s redemption day

A fresh twist in the tense title tussle wasn’t enough to overshadow a drought-breaking win for Daniel Ricciardo and McLaren on a memorably afternoon in Monza.

This article originally appeared in The Phuket News.

It’s not often Daniel Ricciardo is lost for words, but for a moment in Monza the gravity of the situation grabbed the 32-year-old Australian.

Basking in afternoon Lombardian sun and soaked in champagne, the meaningfulness of his unlikely Italian Grand Prix victory began to sink in.

Only the staunchest McLaren fans would have bet on their team winning a grand prix in regular conditions this season, and only the most wildly optimistic among them would have put their money on a one-two finish.

Before the chequered flag fell in Italy McLaren hadn’t won a race in almost nine years, and its last victory in one-two formation was more than 11 seasons ago, when Lewis Hamilton led Jenson Button to the flag in Canada in 2010.

In the interim the iconic team has endured the nadir of its 55-year history. It plummeted to second-last in the title standings twice in three seasons after the sweeping regulation changes of 2014, and only after an internal cleanout and restructuring could it recover to a distant third in the standings last year.

Yet in Italy it wound back the clock. The low-downforce, high-traction circuit demands brought the car closer to the front, and Ricciardo and teammate Lando Norris made the most of the Saturday sprint race to position themselves behind only Max Verstappen on the grand prix grid.

McLaren was daring to dream.

Though even those McLaren fans who could see a route to victory were unlikely to have picked Ricciardo as the standard-bearer. The star signing had been thoroughly outclassed by 21-year-old Norris, and though he’d been showing signs of recovery since returning from the August break, his struggles to adjust to his new machinery would surely cost him in the race.

But it was Ricciardo who was starting on the front row, and a rocketing start got him into the lead.

He held Verstappen at bay for the first half of the race, and a perfectly timed pit stop was set to keep him ahead for a fight to the finish — until a slow tyre change put the Dutchman on a collision course with Lewis Hamilton, taking them both out of the race in a turn-one smash.

Managing the safety restart and the gap to Norris behind him was the story of the second half of the race, and a bonus point for the fastest lap on the final tour put an exclamation point on his mastery of Monza.

His primal scream over team radio in celebration was instinctive, but so too was his emotion after the podium — joyous but pensive as he absorbed the significance of his first win in three years for himself and for his new team.

“I don’t think it’s actually sunk in yet,” he said on his official website. “It’s probably the first time I’ve been overwhelmed by winning. It’s pretty rare for me to be lost for words — maybe this is the first time!

“It’s been over three years, and no-one would have predicted this to happen, particularly after the first half of this year and how things have gone for me.

“It’s been at times the most challenging year for me. I’ve not shied away from that — if anything I’ve enjoyed the adversity and the feeling I’ve had internally because it’s kind of made me understand who I am a bit more as a person and as a competitor.”

There will be time to dissect the meaning of the Italian Grand Prix for the accelerating title fight, but for now the week belongs to Daniel Ricciardo, for whom the sport will hope his eighth win is the first of many in his renaissance.