Daniel Ricciardo has hailed his stunning comeback to finish fourth behind the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg in the Chinese Grand Prix as the best performance of his career.
The Australian, who started from second on the grid, took the lead from pole-sitter Rosberg into the first corner but was brought undone by a left rear tyre puncture on the third lap of the race.
Ricciardo had to limp his Red Bull back to the pits to get the tyre replaced, re-entering the race in 15th position.
From there a combination of good driving and strategy helped the Australian fight his way back to finish fourth, but he was still well behind teammate Daniil Kvyat, who took third in the other Red Bull, with Sebastian Vettel second in his Ferrari.
“There was some incidents on the first lap so I saw some debris, but it didn’t seem like I caught a big bit or anything, so (the puncture) was pretty unexpected,” Ricciardo said.
“I guess it was unlucky, and then the safety car put us even further back, so that was a double whammy – it felt like getting punched in the stomach by a heavyweight.
“But from there it was probably the best race of my career.”
“I felt I could have been spraying champagne, but part of me is still smiling because we’ll get other opportunities.”
Ricciardo wasn’t the only one to have his race hampered by the early carnage, the only difference is he was an innocent bystander as he was through the opening turn before all the drama unfolded.
The incident saw Ferrari teammates Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen involved as were Lewis Hamilton and Kvyat.
After Ricciardo suffered his puncture the track was cleared and it set things up for Rosberg, who promptly shot his Mercedes off into the distance to record his third straight win to open the year.
Rosberg was naturally happy with the weekend as it not only saw him win but put further space between him and Mercedes teammate, Hamilton, who finished seventh after starting from last on the grid after engine failure in qualifying.
“It was a great weekend here for me in China. It’s a special place for me – first pole, first win here (in 2012),” Rosberg said.
“I was just pushing to try to get the best gap possible. I’m glad that it worked out so well.”
Vettel was well back in second and still seething over the first corner incident with Raikkonen on the team radio as the race ended.
Vettel saved a spray for Kvyat as well.
“Kvyat’s attack was suicidal, there was no way he could have made the corner with that speed,” he said.
After three races Rosberg leads the drivers’ championship from Hamilton, with Ricciardo in third.