RACE DEBRIEF

    Was the 2014 Canadian Grand Prix win for Daniel Ricciardo a simple case of Mercedes faltering, or was Red Bull’s strategy the reason for the Australian’s success? Mark Hughes looks back at a memorable contest at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, and explains the pivotal moment that gave Ricciardo a crucial advantage.

    Ricciardo’s breakthrough Grand Prix victory, in his seventh race for Red Bull, came about partly through the overheating electronic control packs on the two Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

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    This left them without rear brakes and minus the 160bhp-worth of electrical boost from around half-way through the race. Hamilton retired with the problem, but Rosberg managed to limp along and, although leading, was a sitting duck near the end – if only anyone could eat into the lead he’d built up over them.

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    Mercedes were on for a 1-2, but brake problems rained on their parade

    Ricciardo was the only one who made it past the Mercedes before the end, with Rosberg hanging on to take a remarkable second.

    But it could have been any one of the Red Bull, Williams or Force India teams that picked up that rare non-Mercedes win that season. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), Felipe Massa (Williams) and Sergio Perez (Force India) all had genuine victory shots on the day.

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    The way it played out was all about how the strategic cards fell and who best took advantage of the hands they’d been dealt.

    A crucial race-shaping factor was the choice of Force India to go through on a one-stop strategy, with everyone around them opting to two-stop. The super-soft tyre was very delicate and only Force India felt confident they could get a long enough stint out of it to make one-stopping feasible.

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    Force India gambled on a one-stop strategy, while others opted to stop twice

    Lined up behind the front row Mercedes on the grid sat Vettel, Valtteri Bottas (Williams), Massa and Ricciardo. The Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Perez were only 11th and 13th respectively and therefore had free tyre choice.

    Hulkenberg took advantage of this to start on the tougher prime tyre. Perez – renowned at getting long stints from his rubber – opted to start on the super-softs, just like all those in the top 10.

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    While all the drama between the two Mercedes played out, the crucial action was happening behind. In hindsight, first to go out of victory contention was Hulkenberg who made a bad start and was out-accelerated by team mate Perez (taking full advantage of his softer tyres) and two others. That nullified the theoretical strategy advantage of Hulk’s tyre choice.

    The safety car came out on the first lap (for a collision between the Marussias of Jules Bianchi and Max Chilton) and stayed out for seven laps. This helped Force India’s one-stop strategy enormously.

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    Both Williams cars were looking good in the early stages, but both would later hit trouble

    Rosberg led away and Vettel initially ran as the leader of the pack behind the Mercs. He had in fact even run ahead of Hamilton for the first couple of laps after the restart before the Mercedes breezed past with the help of DRS. Behind Vettel lay Bottas, Massa and Ricciardo.

    Ricciardo felt he was faster than the two Williams cars ahead of him but was frustrated by their superior straight-line speed. So Red Bull pulled the undercut plug early, on lap 13. Williams was forced to respond by pitting Bottas on the next lap.

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    Because Massa – as the second team car – had to wait until the lap after Bottas for his stop, he lost a place to Ricciardo. There had also been a pit stop delay of four seconds for a broken wheelgun.

    Vettel came in on Lap 15 and emerged ahead of the nose-to-tail Bottas and Ricciardo. But crucially, Vettel was behind the long-running, one-stopping, harder-tyred Hulkenberg. This was about to cost him valuable time as he could find no way past, the Force India much quicker on the straights than the Red Bull.

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    This was the day Ricciardo burst out of the shade and into the winners' circle for the first time

    In this way, Bottas and Ricciardo gradually caught up to the frustrated Vettel. Soon Massa would join onto this train too. As the two-stoppers made their first stops, so the Force Indias had glided up the order.

    Running ahead of Hulkenberg, and not set to pit until Lap 34 (of 70) was Perez. His race was helped enormously by his team mate holding off the faster two-stopping cars. It allowed Perez not to stress his super-soft tyres and thereby get the long stint his strategy depended upon.

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    Hulkenberg’s long, slow-tyre stint had put Perez instead of Vettel in prime position to take advantage of the later Mercedes problems.

    Vettel could do nothing about Hulkenberg, who, on his harder tyres, wouldn’t make his one and only stop until lap 41. This had allowed Bottas to get close enough to Vettel approaching the second stops for Williams to try for the undercut on Vettel on lap 35.

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    Vettel could do little about Hulkenberg in front, who was in turn helping his Force India team mate capitalise on Mercedes' woes

    This forced Red Bull to respond with Vettel next lap. It was enough to keep him ahead of the Williams, but left him vulnerable to his own team mate Ricciardo, who was called in a lap later.

    Because Vettel’s in-lap had to be done while right on the tail of Hulkenberg, it wasn’t particularly quick. But Ricciardo – able to use the space where Bottas no longer was – was able to do a fantastic in-lap, a full 1s quicker than Vettel’s.

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    Just as Ricciardo was doing this, Vettel had come out on track behind Raikkonen’s much slower Ferrari and so couldn’t do a particularly fast out-lap either. It meant that Ricciardo overcut himself past Vettel, to the surprise even of Red Bull.

    So once Hulkenberg had pitted out the way, the only thing standing between Ricciardo being in position to take advantage of the Merc problems was – Perez. Daniel was soon upon him, but finding a way by was surely going to be tough. The Force India was much faster down the straights than the Red Bull – as Vettel could have told him.

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    The aftermath of Felipe Massa's audacious move on Sergio Perez late on

    By lap 46 Hamilton was out, as his brake fluid boiled away. Rosberg still led but it was from the fast-closing train of Perez, Ricciardo, Vettel, Bottas and Massa. The latter had made his second stop very late and so was on much fresher tyres as he quickly closed down on the train.

    Bottas (with overheating brakes that would soon cause him to drop many places) ran wide at the hairpin, allowing Massa to pass, with Massa then blowing an opportunity of passing Vettel by forgetting to deploy his DRS down the back straight.

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    That may have been a race-costing error, for, on his new tyres, he was now the fastest car on track. Had he passed Vettel, he may have had the opportunity of getting by Ricciardo, Perez and Rosberg before the end.

    As things stood, this looked Perez’s race to lose. But there was a complication. With the Red Bulls swarming all over him, his brake-by-wire was malfunctioning, causing some braking difficulties.

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    The Red Bull duo celebrated with team engineer Simon Rennie on the podium

    With four laps to go, the team was instructing him over the radio which switch changes he needed to make to reset the system. Distracted by this, he left a tiny gap open into turns 1-2 – and Ricciardo instantly filled it.

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    Two laps later Ricciardo powered past the limping Rosberg to take the lead and Vettel passed Perez at the same place Ricciardo had. With one lap to go, Massa tried a move on Perez who was in no mood for compromise – and they crashed heavily into Turn 1.

    Ricciardo took the flag four seconds ahead of Rosberg and Vettel for a great opportunistic win that had turned on his ability to nail that crucial second in-lap.