After a typically woeful qualifying for Daniel Ricciardo at the returning Singapore Grand Prix, the Honey Badger turned heads at the Marina Bay Circuit on Sunday with his best performance of the season.
The Australian driver was all set for another frustrating race after qualifying P16; however, an electric start and a number of retirements saw the 33-year-old make his way not only into the top 10 but astonishingly the top five.
A Safety Car for Yuki Tsunoda after the Japanese driver crashed at Turn 10 allowed McLaren to pit both Lando Norris and Ricciardo cheaply, benefitting the duo massively.
It gave the team a chance to get the pair onto the dry tyres from the Intermediates whilst losing considerably less time than the rest of the field, something which saw the drivers emerge back onto the circuit in fourth and sixth.
Sixth became fifth for Ricciardo at the Safety Car restart, as Max Verstappen went straight off at Turn Seven after a costly lock-up whilst trying to overtake Norris.
Ricciardo was one of a few drivers to be fitted with the Softs rather than the Mediums, something which saw the Australian lap faster than his British team-mate, who was on the middle compound.
Despite asking if he could be let past to try and catch Carlos Sainz in third, he sat behind Norris at the command of the Woking-based team.
The result was made possible thanks to not only the Safety Car but also running longer on the Intermediates, something Ricciardo wasn’t initially considering.
Ricciardo found himself lingering towards the bottom of the points for a large portion of the first half of the race, whilst the circuit was stubbornly failing to dry quickly.
The outgoing McLaren driver considered being the “hero” and stopping for Softs early; however, he opted to be “patient” after George Russell failed to fire up the Medium tyres quickly after being the first driver to switch to a slick compound.
“I think we made back three places on lap one,” recalled Ricciardo on Sky Sports F1.
“When we were 10th or just outside the points, it was then tempting to get a little desperate and try to be the hero on slicks and make up a big amount of time, but I think we were mature.
“It didn’t feel right and then I think [George] Russell went on the slick quite early and it was taking him a while to get up to speed.
“So I was like, ‘Whilst we’re still quicker, let’s stay out,’ and then [Pierre] Gasly went in and he was slower. We just said ‘Let’s be patient and stay out’.
“Of course, you know that if a safety car comes then that’s the best-case scenario and Yuki [Tsunoda] I saw was in the barriers at 10, so that was – not for him – but a good situation for us.
“That’s the good fortune but I think through our maturity, we created some of that for ourselves and then top five, somehow, someway.”
Due to the Safety Cars and the damp conditions, the race ended up being completed based on the two-hour timer rather than the supposed to be completed 61 laps.
Completing less laps allowed Ricciardo to go for the Softs rather than the Mediums, with the ambition to make the most of the superior grip from the softest compound whilst others around him were a “bit vulnerable” on the Mediums.
“Jumping to the soft was more for the restart,” added Ricciardo.
“The track was still slick so we knew coming out under the safety car that we were going to be in a strong position.
“So I think the mindset of the team was to lock in the position basically and try to give myself the best defence, whilst everything was a bit close, and everyone is a bit vulnerable on a restart.
“It was really just to have grip at the beginning and manage it later on.
“At first, I wasn’t necessarily convinced, but after they told me the race would be a little short because of time so we would buy a few laps, I was like ‘Let’s go with the soft. It makes sense’.”