You’d have to go a long way to find a more popular winner than Daniel Ricciardo at Sunday’s thrilling Canadian Grand Prix.
The Red Bull Racing driver overtook championship leader Nico Rosberg’s ailing Mercedes with just three laps to go, having been involved in an absorbing battle with Force India’s Sergio Perez and team-mate Sebastian Vettel earlier in the afternoon.
The 24-year-old continues to surprise even his team bosses this season. After his valiant performance in Monaco two weeks ago, which saw him battling with Lewis Hamilton for second place in the closing stages, Red Bull Racing Team Principal Christian Horner admitted he was ‘shocked’ by the pace the Australian has shown since taking the step up to the team from Toro Rosso.
Ricciardo though was in the right place at the right time to pounce on Mercedes’ problems, which saw Rosberg down on power and Lewis Hamilton forced into retirement.
And the man with the widest smile in the paddock said it was ‘awesome’ to finally become a race winner.
“I’m a Grand Prix winner!” he beamed. “I think it still seems a bit surreal to be honest, just because it all happened so quickly at the end.
“I was third for a while and then it all happened in a really exciting fashion. Once I got past Perez I knew I just had to drive clean and get in Rosberg’s DRS zone and, from then on, it was just awesome.
“We achieved a great result today with first and third – so let’s enjoy it – but we will still have some work to do also. This will motivate the guys to work even harder and find even more, so I’m sure it will keep coming even better for us at the next few races.”
But his weekend prior to the final 15 laps would’ve barely had him listed as a likely race winner.
Out-paced by his world champion team-mate in all but one of the practice sessions, Ricciardo qualified sixth on the grid for Sunday’s race, while Vettel was the surprise of the afternoon by taking third ahead of the Williams duo of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
From the start, Vettel leap-frogged Hamilton into second, but the advantage would last just four laps as Hamilton powered past to hunt down Rosberg.
Ricciardo stayed sixth off the start, but dropped to seventh at the after round of pit-stops as the Force Indias ran long at their first stint.
In a bid to get him out of traffic, Ricciardo stopped for the second time earlier than the rest of the field. This gave him the jump on the rest, and saw him in third, ahead of Vettel, but crucially, behind Perez.
The trio were in close quarters, and were catching the struggling Mercedes by nearly two seconds per lap. And they were soon on him, but Perez’s Force India was down on top-speed compared to the Mercedes, meaning he couldn’t make a move to pass.
Ricciardo though showed supreme confidence in passing Perez before hunting down and passing Rosberg for the lead with three laps to go.
Vettel also made a move stick on Perez in the dying laps, but was lucky to escape unharmed from a frightening crash behind him, as Massa hit Perez going into Turn 1 - the out-of-control Williams narrowly missing Vettel in front as he turned in.
And although Vettel has been used to leading the team in recent years, he said he was delighted for his team-mate to break his duck.
He said: “Congratulations to Daniel for his first win, which is very, very special, so I’m happy for him and happy for the team, especially after such a horrible winter. It’s nice to be able to finally break through to get a win this year and capitalise on Mercedes having a problem.
“We are here to keep pushing and to keep doing our best.”