Ricciardo wins Monza

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates his Italian Grand Prix victory, Monza, Italy. (Photo credit: Motorsportweek/FIA Pool Image)

Sunday night was a great night for me.

Now I’m going to tell you why, in great detail, so widen those eyes and let me paint a papaya coloured picture – it’s a beautiful one.

If you follow the world of Formula One, you would be familiar with the struggles Australia’s very own Daniel Ricciardo has faced this season.

If not, that’s fine.

He made the big money switch from the championship contending Red Bull to a re-emerging Renault (2018), where he had moderate success earning the French outfit’s first two podiums since re-entering the sport.

2020 presented another career-defining decision, stay with Renault, or sign with a promising McLaren, another team looking to return to its glory days,

I was thrilled when Ricciardo signed with the famous McLaren, they had seemingly overtaken Renault, and it was a deal that would hopefully yield race wins and eventually championships – so we hoped anyway.

2021 has not been kind to Ricciardo, regularly outperformed by his younger teammate Lando Norris as he struggled to come to grips with a competitive but challenging car.

In simpler terms, Ricciardo hadn’t been fast, he was much slower than his teammate and it looked like he lacked confidence, which had left the head honchos at McLaren at a loss.

McLaren CEO Zak Brown had openly wanted Ricciardo to drive for his team since his days at Red Bull, he now had him, but this wasn’t the Ricciardo we knew.

He is known as ‘the last of the late brakers’, lauded for his race craft and ability to overtake when not many others would dare, except we hadn’t really seen any of that this year.

Ricciardo has struggled to find the limit on his McLaren, and drivers must drive on the limit in order to extract those extra milliseconds crucial to a good performance.

This mid-season break seemed to arrive at the opportune time for a revival of sorts for the Australian.

The season rebooted in Spa for the Belgian Grand Prix and teams were greeted with torrential rain.  

Many drivers struggled but Ricciardo produced his best qualifying performance of the season, fourth on the grid.

Unfortunately in bizarre circumstances the event wouldn’t be completed, with conditions deemed too dangerous, three laps behind the safety car however was oddly enough to deem it as a race, and Ricciardo was awarded fourth.

On to the next one.

Zandvoort played host to the Dutch Grand Prix, and it was a weekend to forget for McLaren.

Ricciardo outqualified Norris in 10th after the young Brit crashed in Q3, but the race saw McLaren forced to favour one driver, with Norris placed on a more effective strategy that saw him finish in one position higher than Ricciardo in 10th.

But that’s okay, because this is where the fun begins.

The Italian Grand Prix in Monza, also known as ‘the temple of speed’ greeted us next on the F1 calendar, it would host the second sprint race of the season, which would ultimately set the grid for Sunday’s main event.

Ricciardo found speed in traditional qualifying on Friday, but only enough to finish fifth, agonisingly close to his teammate in fourth.

He’s such an emotional character, and it’s evident when he talks to the media.

“I’m just hungry, I want it.” he said post-qualifying.

“I’m ready, ready to go, just for me.”

His fifth-placed qualifying meant he started fifth on the grid in the sprint race, I can’t wait to tell you what happens next.  

On the start Mercedes’ Sir Lewis Hamilton and Norris dual whilst Ricciardo slides up into third, posing a challenge to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen before being forced to back out.

I was watching both the sprint race and Ronaldo’s return for Manchester United on separate screens. It was a good night.

Ricciardo held third and a grid-place penalty to Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas (winner) would see ‘the Honey Badger’ promoted to second on the grid – front row.

I loved his response on radio after his race engineer confirmed to him his starting position for the Grand Prix.

“Nice one,” he said. No screaming, no laughing; redolent of a man with unfinished business.

When asked post-race on his approach for tomorrow’s race, Ricciardo didn’t hesitate.

“Full attack.” he said, with his trademark grin.

Lights out at the Italian Grand Prix saw Ricciardo attack Verstappen on the opening corner, it was magnificent.

He got the jump on his former teammate and led the Grand Prix, it was like a throwback to yesteryear as Ricciardo defended against Verstappen for over 20 laps before pitting.

McLaren’s pitstop was faultless, it perfectly summed up their weekend, Ricciardo hit his marks and the pit crew hit theirs.

It was at that moment that I began manifesting certain things.

Imagine if Red Bull, the masters of the sub 2-second pit stop, botch it. I thought.

And they did.

Verstappen pitted the very next lap, and was left stranded for over 10 seconds – it was magical and I screamed with jubilation.

Ricciardo was having a great out-lap as well and before too long it was Hamilton’s turn to enter pit lane; again another slow stop.

What on earth is happening out there?

Hamilton came out just ahead of Verstappen and I begin to fantasize again.

Imagine if they hit each other, lose a few seconds, have to pit again. A certain win for Ricciardo, surely?

Upon Hamilton’s pit exit they enter the chicane almost side-by-side, I scream at the television.

“Touch, touch, touch!”

They crash. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was as though the race was scripted for McLaren.

At the time of the accident I didn’t know how close that wheel of the Red Bull came to Hamilton’s helmet, and I’m so relieved that he is alright, I was so caught up in what it meant for Ricciardo. The halo saves lives.

A safety car was necessary following the collision and it left Ricciardo with just under half the race to maintain his lead.

Norris would propel himself into second and all of a sudden it was a McLaren 1-2.

Norris asks his race engineer on the radio if it’s best for the team if he stays behind Dan, or challenges him.

Don’t even think about it, Lando.

They told him to hold position, he obliged, team work.

Ricciardo passed the chequered flag in P1 for the first time since Monaco in 2018, 1,204 days if you’re a numbers person, his eighth Grand Prix victory.

It was a faultless drive.

I ran around the living room whilst watching his cool down lap, I would have ran outside if I wasn’t concerned about missing the celebrations.

He stood on his McLaren in parc fermé pounding his chest before hugging everyone who was a part of their massive triumph.

It was shortly after that Ricciardo laid bare just how much a toll 2021 has taken on him, saying that he for a time he fell out of love with the sport, albeit never once doubting his own ability.

“It’s about […] time.” Ricciardo gestured the profanity he would’ve used to describe his emotion.

We finally saw the return of the ‘shoey’ on the podium, which Norris and Brown both endured, and I thought that was brilliant.

However, my favourite moment of celebration was simply this from Ricciardo on his team radio post-race.

“I never left… I just moved aside for a while.”

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