Daniel Ricciardo was one of the stars of Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix, the Australian lifting Scuderia AlphaTauri off the foot of the constructors’ standings single-handedly by finishing seventh after qualifying in a stunning fourth place.
Ricciardo, two races into his second comeback of the season after missing five races with a broken left hand, was on it from it the outset at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez, site of one of his three career pole positions for Red Bull Racing in 2018.
He was inside the top 10 in all three practice sessions before lifting a gear to qualify on the second row behind word champion Max Verstappen (Red Bull Racing), AlphaTauri’s best qualifying in two seasons.
Keeping faster cars behind for the entire race was always going to be a challenge for Ricciardo, but he maintained fourth after the chaotic opening-corner clash between Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez that eliminated the Mexican from his home race, and was fifth when the race was paused after Kevin Magnussen (Haas) caused a red flag with a big crash on lap 33.
Having to take the restart on worn hard tyres was always going to make life hard for the 34-year-old, but he chased George Russell (Mercedes) all the way to the line to take seventh, and lifted AlphaTauri past Haas and Alfa Romeo in the teams’ championship in the process.
“I’m happy, it’s a been a while,” Ricciardo beamed afterwards, his 35 laps spent inside the top five more than AlphaTauri had managed in the previous 18 races this season.
“There’s a lot of emotions … relieved is one, as well. Two (race) starts on this track, you hold your breath because it’s such a long run into Turn 1 and anything can happen.
“The first start, we started fourth and came through fourth so I was pretty happy, especially when we know we have a little bit more drag than others here. The second one, when I saw the red flag I felt it was going to hurt our race, we were in fifth and potentially could have finished there. You can’t be too selfish, obviously Kevin had a big crash so I was happy to hear he was OK.”
Ricciardo – and most of the midfield – could do little to curtail the progress of Lando Norris in the final stages, the McLaren driver armed with fresher medium-compound tyres after being eliminated in Q1 on Saturday. The former teammates had a brief battle on lap 60 before Norris escaped, but Ricciardo said Norris attacking – and later passing – Russell opened up an opportunity he just failed to take.
“Lando was much quicker … I fought for a couple of corners and then we let him go, and thought if he could catch George it could bring George back to us. It did on the last lap, we got close, but to fight a Mercedes at the end … it’s been a big weekend for us.
“Six points, I can’t be sad … When you get that close you look at two more points, but big-picture we should be really happy.”
Ricciardo jumped from last to 17th in the drivers’ standings with the result, which came after his comeback in Austin last weekend saw him battling with race-rustiness and a car affected by damage from debris to labour to a 17th-place finish.
“There were definitely moments (today) … when I was fourth I thought ‘if the race finished now, I’d be pretty happy’,” he said.
“Then I was fifth after the first (pit) stop, I thought ‘fifth is alright …’. All in all, it’s a good weekend … and after last week, this is really the weekend I dreamed of.”
Daniel's Mexico City Grand Prix by the numbers
- Qualified: 4th
- Race: 7th
- Fastest lap: 1min 22.679secs (7th), lap 66
- Points this event: 6
- Points this season: 6 (17th in world championship)