Going into the Chinese Grand Prix weekend, Daniel’s expectation were, shall we say, realistic, with the Honey Badger admitting that it was a track he had sometimes struggled to get to grips with. “I’m still yet to get a podium there but it’s always a track I’ve had good speed at,” he said.
His expectations looked like dropping considerably after final practice, however. An engine issue in the session led to a race against time to get his car prepped for Quali, but thanks to an immense effort from his crew Daniel made it out in Q1 with just over two minutes to spare and he scraped through to Q2 in P14. He eventually hauled his RB14 up to P6 behind Max.
Carefully managed expectations turned to elation on Sunday, however. A collision between the Toro Rossos scattered debris across the track and the safety car was deployed. It was time for another lightning-fast reaction by the team and Daniel and Max were swiftly called in for a double stop.
Armed with fresh soft tyres and greater grip than rivals who had missed the opportunity to pit under the SC, Daniel scythed through the pack, brilliantly passing all of his major rivals on the way to a stupendous sixth career win. His pass on Valtteri Bottas was perhaps the pick of the bunch with Daniel making a brilliant late-braking move down the inside of the Finn at the hairpin to takee lead. “After the safety car and when I could see the way the race was going I knew we had a chance. Once I had a sniff of victory I wasn’t going to let it go,” Daniel smiled afterwards.
After the celebrations in Shanghai, the following race, on the streets of Baku, should have been another opportunity for victory, but it ended in a hugely disappointing collision between Max and Daniel.
The incident was one of the campaign’s undoubted low points, but we didn’t have to wait long for an uplift. On the championship’s return to Europe after the early flyways, Max delivered a potent performance at the Spanish Grand Prix, maximising the life of his tyres over a long opening stint that allowed him to close on the racer leaders.
Holding third place late in the race the Dutchman came under enormous pressure from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel in the closing stages of the race, but just as he had to the German’s team-mate Kimi Räikkönen in 2016, Max fended off the attack with a brilliant display of defensive driving and crossed the line to take the team’s 150th podium and his first of the 2018 campaign.
Daniel – bruised and battered but brilliant in Monaco
Characterised by the poetic justice of the result, and by the edge-of-the-seat drama of how the event unfolded, this is a race that will go down in the history books, not just for the team, but possibly in the annals of the sport as one of the great Monaco wins.
Back in 2016 Daniel had secured his maiden pole position but on Sunday had been cruelly robbed of victory on Sunday when a pit stop went wrong. So when the RB14 quickly proved to be the class of the field this year through practice it looked like it was payback time for the Aussie.
He duly took a brilliant second Monaco pole on Saturday and at the start of the race stormed into a solid lead. However, as the midpoint of the race approached Daniel suddenly slowed, and as he reported a power loss, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel closed in and began to exert huge pressure on the race leader.
There was no way Daniel was going to be deflected from a victory he felt the Monaco circuit owed him, however, and what followed was a staggering exhibition of calm, controlled and classy racing as he fought off numerous challenges by Vettel, dealt with a mounting array of problems and survived a late VSC period to claim victory at the team’s 250
“Winning in Monaco felt bigger than I thought it would,” said Daniel. “As I said, the initial reaction was relief – but later, when I’d had chance to think about it, the satisfaction was absolutely enormous.”
Max the Home Hero
By the time we arrived at the first of our two home circuits, the Red Bull Ring, momentum was building for the team, and especially for Max. The Dutchman headed into the Austrian Grand Prix weekend off the back of a third-place finish in Canada and second place in France. On home soil though he would go one better.
After starting fourth Max took third when Kimi Räikkönen made a mistake in Turn 3 and then inherited P2 when Valtteri Bottas retired from the race.
He finally claimed the lead when Lewis Hamilton suffered tyres issue and later retired from the race. From there on it was simply a case of managing the gaps back to his remaining rivals, a job Max managed perfectly.
“An amazing weekend. If you want to win a race this is the perfect place, in a Red Bull car at the Red Bull Ring,” said Max after his fourth career win. “To win with a Red Bull car on the Red Bull Ring in front of so many Dutch fans is the best feeling I can imagine.”
A double dose of Max-ico Magic
Since its return to the calendar, Mexico City’s Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez has proven to be a bit of a stomping ground for the Bulls, and Max in particular. Top five results in 2015 became top finishes in 2016 and then last year Max aced the event.
So there were high hopes that we might get another big result this year – and Max didn’t disappoint.
The Dutchman ran quickest throughout the practice sessions, but in qualifying it was Daniel who made the most of the session, scoring a brilliant pole position ahead of Max, who was clearly upset with the outcome.
That just added to his motivation for the race and when Daniel got a poor start Max powered through to battle Lewis Hamilton for the lead. Max had the better line into the first corner and he emerged in the lead.
And just as he did in 2017, once in the lead Max simply strode away from the pack, delivering a superbly controlled drive to claim his fifth career win.