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2018 HIGHS AND LOWS – PART 2

In the second part of our season review we look back at victory on home soil, Max’s remarkable run of form in the wake of his Red Bull Ring win, Daniel’s disintegrating reliability, and the crucial decisions that will shape the team for seasons to come…

With two consecutive podiums in the bag, in Canada and France, Max was growing in confidence and a week after the French GP, at the second leg of F1’s first ever triple-header, in Austria, the Dutchman would deliver one of the team’s most famous results, on home soil.

At the Red Bull Ring, Max started the race in fourth but was soon up to P3 after passing Kimi Räikkönen. That then turned to second place when Valtteri Bottas ground to a halt on lap 14 and Max eventually took the lead when race leader Lewis Hamilton experienced excessive tyre wear and dropped out of contention. Thereafter, Max delivered a measured, inch-perfect drive to the flag to claim his fourth career win in front of an orange-clad army of Dutch fans.

“If you want to win a race this is the perfect place, in a Red Bull car at the Red Bull Ring. The fans in the grandstand were great, so many orange t-shirts there,” he said.

There was to be no 29th birthday celebration for Daniel on race day at the Red Bull Ring, however, as he was forced out of the race on lap 54 with an exhaust issue. The failure foreshadowed a troubled second half of the season for the Australian.

After the high of Austria, the races leading into the summer break were something of an anti-climax, with the races in Britain, Germany and Hungary yielding a best result of fourth, scored by Max in Germany. There were more mechanical woes, too, with power unit problems leading to Daniel failing to finish in Germany and Max exiting the race in Hungary.

Following an in-season test at the Hungaroring, teams headed off on the sport’s traditional summer break. Normally a time to recharge and reset ahead of the final push towards season’s end, this year’s break instead developed into a frenzy of media activity as during the break, Daniel announced that after five years with the Team and 10 as a Red Bull athlete he would be leaving at the end of the season to join Renault.

The race to the flag

With nine races in 13 weeks, the period after the summer shutdown was always likely to be fast and furious, and so it proved. The race in Belgian saw Daniel suffer another retirement, this time when he suffered damage after getting caught up in a huge shunt that saw Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg smash into Fernando Alonso’s McLaren at the start.

Max, though, managed to put a positive spin on the weekend, with the Dutchman rising from seventh on the grid to claim third place and his 16th career podium finish.

Daniel’s luck went from bad to worse a week later in high-speed Monza. When he dropped to P19 on the grid by debilitating engine penalties, the Aussie made good progress to P11 early on but after 23 laps was forced to retire with a clutch failure.

F1 now embarked on a final run of seven flyaways, starting under the floodlights in glittering Singapore. At what has traditionally been a happy hunting ground for the team Max again delivered, racing to second and his sixth podium of the season, behind Hamilton.

There was little to write home about from the Russian Grand Prix (aside from celebrating Max’s 21st birthday on race day) and it was at the following round, at Japan’s legendary Suzuka, that proved to be the catalyst for a spectacular run to the end of the season from Max.

A brilliant, bruising encounter in which he was hit by both Ferraris, saw Max power through to P3 and his third consecutive Suzuka podium.

Daniel too enjoyed a spectacular outing in Japan. A power loss early in Q2 relegated him to P15 on the grid but a race through the pack on a hugely demanding circuit such as Suzuka is just the kind of challenge the Honey Badger enjoys. The resulting charge to P4 at the flag was another masterclass in tactics and tenacity from Daniel.

After his P3 in Japan, Max took a step up in Austin, this time delivering perhaps his finest drive of the season.

Suspension damage in qualifying allied to a gearbox change which meant Max was forced to start from P18, but as soon as the lights went out the Dutchman began a breathtaking charge up the order.

After just three laps he had claimed nine places and by lap seven he was fifth. That became fourth when cruel luck again visited Daniel. This time electrical problems resulted in a stoppage on lap nine.

Max though was still making gains and as the strategies played out he rose to second. In the closing stages he once again got to show off his exceptional defensive skills, holding world champion Lewis Hamilton at bay to take P2 behind Räikkönen.

“It is safe to say today went a lot better than expected,” was the Dutchman’s hugely understated verdict on a remarkable performance.

Riding a Max-ican wave

A week later Max completed his climb up the podium order with a resounding victory at a circuit that is fast becoming his stomping ground – the Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez.

With the RB14 imperious, Max led every practice session but was left seething on Saturday when he was pipped for pole by Daniel, the Australian dragging every last ounce of performance from the car, and himself, to claim his third career pole.

After Daniel got away poorly Max tussled with Hamilton for the lead, with Max emerging in front. From there he simply strode away from the opposition to notch his second consecutive win in Mexico, leading all but four of the 71 laps.

There was more heartbreak for Daniel, though. He was in the process of recovering from his poor start when his race was ended by a hydraulic failure. It was the Australian’s eighth DNF of the season.

A sting at the tail end

Max should have followed up his Mexico win with a back-to-back victory in Brazil, with the 21-year-old again powering through the pack from a P5 start to steal the lead from Hamilton on lap 40. Firmly in control, Max set about building a gap but on lap 44 he was hit by Force India’s Esteban Ocon who was attempting to unlap himself. Max was sent into a spin and was forced to watch Hamilton sweep past to claim an unassailable lead. The result was P2 for Max, a heated incident in the weigh room and a couple of days’ community service, which are yet to be defined.

And so to the final round, where Max capped a superb season with his 11th podium of the campaign and fourth place in the overall Drivers’ standings with 249 points.

The weekend though was arguably more about Daniel as the team bid an emotional farewell to one of its most popular and respected drivers, with a guard of honour escort to the grid.