The Australian got away cleanly from pole position to hold off Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel from the lead, but after the frontrunners took their first pit stops between laps 13 and 17 Ricciardo reported a loss of power from his Renault engine.
Ricciardo’s kinetic energy recovery system was malfunctioning, costing him 25% of his car’s power or more than two seconds per lap, according to Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner.
Vettel closed to less than a second of the Red Bull Racing car, but Ricciardo kept his former teammate at arm’s length using the serpentine circuit, where overtaking is difficult at the best of times, as the race settled into its rhythm.
“We had a lot to deal with during the race,” Ricciardo said. “I felt a loss of power and I thought the race was done.”
The pace in the battle for the lead slowed dramatically as Ricciardo focussed on keeping the German behind him with reduced power, but the lack of speed perversely aided his cause, with Vettel subsequently struggling to generate enough temperature in his ultrasoft tyres, causing them to grain.
The gap waxed and waned between one and two seconds, with neither driver able to seize a decisive advantage over the other.
“I think we had the pace, but it was a tricky race,” Vettel said. “I think Daniel had the answers at all times.
“In the first stint I could follow him fairly easily, then … the next stint it was a bit the same.”
The Ferrari driver had a final opportunity to spring an attack after a lap-73 virtual safety car, triggered when a Charles Leclerc brakes failure sent his Sauber careering into the back of Brendon Hartley’s Toro Rosso, but the controlled speed during the caution period meant he lost too much tyre temperature and was unable to keep up with Ricciardo at the restart, losing more than seven seconds in the five laps to the end of the race.
“At the restart I didn’t have much confidence in the tyres, otherwise it would’ve been nice to keep the pressure on until the end,” Vettel lamented.
But it seemed little was going to stop Ricciardo from taking his first Monaco Grand Prix victory after dominating qualifying and topping all three practice sessions, and the Australian crossed the line with a mixture of relief and satisfaction.
“I think I can show more emotion today than yesterday,” he said. “Two years in the making, this, so I finally feel like the redemption has arrived.”
Lewis Hamilton finished third for Mercedes, losing three points to Vettel in the drivers championship and meaning he left Monte Carlo with a 14-point advantage.
“It would’ve been nice to have been second, but I did everything I could,” he said.
Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth and just half a second ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who was the only frontrunner to try something other than the hypersoft-ultrasoft one-stop strategy.
The Finn switched to the supersoft instead of the ultrasoft compound in the pit stop window, and for most of the race he appeared to have pace vastly superior to any of his rivals, though the red-striped rubber appeared to drop off late in the race, leaving him vulnerable to a fast-finishing midfield behind him.
Esteban Ocon finished a superb sixth for Force India ahead of Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
Gasly was hounded late in the race by the rapid Nico Hulkenberg and Max Verstappen, who were running alternative strategies ending with 30-lap stints on the hypersoft rubber.
The Frenchman held his own in the face of the enormous pressure, leaving the Renault and Red Bull Racing cars frustrated in seventh and eighth ahead of Hulkenberg’s teammate, Carlos Sainz, in 10th for the final point.
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