Daniel Ricciardo hailed the fair and respectful racing he and his Red Bull Formula 1 teammate Max Verstappen displayed as they fought for position during the Malaysian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull duo raced side-by-side for several corners on lap 39 of the 56-lap event at Sepang, with Ricciardo staying ahead of his teammate despite having tyres that were considerably older at that point.
Ricciardo’s firm defending turned out to be crucial as he inherited the lead when Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes engine failed just one lap later, and he was brought in for fresh tyres ahead of Verstappen, who had to wait in the pitlane, under the race’s final virtual safety car.
The Australian driver went on to claim his first F1 win since the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix and afterwards praised the nature of his close battle with Verstappen.
He said: “Max pitted under VSC and at that point his strategy looked very good, I had to hold him off in mid part of the race.
“It was a good battle, Max on fresher tyres and I was doing everything I could. It was fun, we were determined to win, we did it very fair with a lot of respect, I thank him for that.”
“It was fair and clean with Max, it was fun. That was the best part; I think we both enjoyed it. I’m sure he would love to be in this position, but he’s also honest and fair and I think today we can both hold our heads high.”
Ricciardo came close to winning the Monaco Grand Prix from pole position earlier this year only to lose out due to a slow pitstop. After finally clinching his fourth career F1 win, he explained that he had had to keep on believing that he would win at some point in 2016, and also paid tribute to his friend Jules Bianchi.
“Since Monaco I kept the faith and believed we could win one this year, and we got it,” said Ricciardo. “[I’m] pretty emotional, I won’t lie. Overwhelming, a lot of feelings right now. I’m super grateful.
“I want to dedicate this one to Jules as well. I’ve been waiting for a victory, waiting to dedicate this to him. My life definitely changed since that incident. I’m extremely grateful and appreciative of everything I’ve got. I’ll dedicate this to him.”
Verstappen closed in on Ricciardo after the final pitstops but did not attack his teammate, which led some observers to wonder if Red Bull had instructed its drivers to hold station to the finish as it famously did in the 2013 Malaysian Grand Prix, where Sebastian Vettel defied the “Multi 21” order to stay behind Mark Webber.
But the squad’s team principal Christian Horner stated that he had allowed Ricciardo and Verstappen to race to the finish on the condition that they did it respectfully and did not jeopardise the first non-Mercedes 1-2 of the V6 hybrid era.
He said: “I instructed both race engineers: ‘you are free to race, but make sure we prioritise 43 points.’ [I] asked the drivers to respect that [and] they did.
“From our perspective, it was fine to allow them to do that. They were both in the same engine modes, both in the same power state, so there was no real advantage one way or the other.
Horner also described the closing stages of yesterday’s Grand Prix as “different circumstances” to the 2013 race, and described it as demonstration of the mutual respect between his two drivers.
He said: “At no stage [was it] a multi 21 [situation]. Two different drivers, different circumstances.
“What we’ve seen is that there is a real respect between the two of them. They are both good racers, hard racers. I felt comfortable letting the two guys go head-to-head.”
For his part, Verstappen insisted that he had been “pushing really hard” to try and take the victory away from his teammate, but explained that the older tyres he was on at the end of the race had cost him a chance of making a decisive move.
He said: “I was pushing, but also when you get very close, it overheats tyres and I was on old tyres. It was very difficult to get into DRS and, like I said, if you are on old tyres [you cannot get close]. With new tyres I had a few laps advantage but on older tyres to get within a second is very hard.
“Until the last lap we were pushing really hard. The team said we were free to race but in a clean way and that is what we did.”
Since Verstappen became Ricciardo’s teammate at Red Bull ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix in place of Daniil Kvyat, the pair has scored two wins and nine podiums.
Red Bull is likely to be in a position to put Mercedes under pressure again at the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend as the first two sectors of the Suzuka circuit will suit the RB12’s aerodynamic strengths.
Yesterday’s result stopped Mercedes from clinching its third straight constructors’ championship and Red Bull could delay it again this weekend if it does enough to keep the gap between the two teams to under 172 points (it is currently 194 with 215 on offer heading to Suzuka).
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