Daniel Ricciardo has won the Italian Grand Prix with a sensational performance to breathe life back into his career.
The Australian started from second on the grid and passed championship leader Max Verstappen on the first lap and never looked back.
After that superb overtaking move, Ricciardo had to fend off charges from Verstappen and his teammate Lando Norris, who finished in second, completing a sensational 1-2 for McLaren.
It’s the eighth victory of Ricciardo’s F1 career and his first race win since Monaco in 2018.
Ricciardo kept Verstappen at bay in the opening laps and a slick pit stop kept his momentum going, while Verstappen’s Red Bull had a disastrously slow 10-second pit stop.
Shortly afterwards, the Dutchman and his championship rival Lewis Hamilton both crashed out of the race when Verstappen tried to overtake Hamilton on a chicane.
There wasn’t enough room for Verstappen to pass through and his wheels collided with Hamilton’s, causing both cars to go off the track and the Red Bull to sit skewed partially on top of the Mercedes.
It resulted in scary images of Verstappen’s right rear tyre appearing to bump Hamilton’s helmet, which was only protected by the “halo” device around his head.
Stewards later handed Verstappen a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Russia.
The crash triggered one of several safety cars that were required throughout the race due to various incidents.
The Verstappen-Hamilton crash undoubtedly helped Ricciardo’s chances, but the Aussie must be given credit for holding Verstappen back and carefully managing the remainder of the race to secure the win.
“He’s been faultless out front and worked the restarts really well,” Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle said.
Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and the two Ferrari drivers looked to be making a late charge, but Ricciardo and Norris successfully held them off in an incredible effort.
Norris was eager to catch up to Ricciardo as he sought his maiden F1 win. “I need Daniel to pick the pace up a bit, he’s driving too slow,” Norris was heard telling McLaren team radio early in the race.
But the Brit was given team orders not to overtake Ricciardo to ensure the pair could safely secure a 1-2 finish.
“Lando, best for us where you are,” McLaren told Norris, who asked whether he was allowed to race Ricciardo.
In the end, Ricciardo led from the first corner to the end of the race and he screamed in jubilation when he crossed the finish line first when the chequered flag was waved.
“Deep down I knew this was gonna come,” he said after claiming victory. “So thanks … thanks for having my back. And for anyone who thought I left, I never left. I just moved aside for a while. Thanks guys.”
Red-hot Ricciardo breaks longstanding drought
The victory was an incredible result for Ricciardo and McLaren and broke several long droughts for both the driver and the team.
It is Ricciardo’s first win in more three years, or 1204 days to be precise. It’s also McLaren’s first race win since 2012 and the team’s first 1-2 finish since the Canadian Grand Prix in 2010.
It’s also the first time any team has had both drivers finish 1-2 in a Grand Prix this season.
The victory is Ricciardo’s best result at McLaren, surpassing his fifth-placed finish at the British Grand Prix, and his best result since leaving Red Bull at the end of 2018.
In a sight for sore eyes, Ricciardo drank champagne out of his boot on the podium in his trademark “shoey” celebration and even got Norris and McLaren CEO Zak Brown in on the act.
The 32-year-old was ecstatic to claim the win in an exciting race and finally produce his best form.
“Can I swear? I want to swear,” he said. “About f***ing time.
“To be honest even if we got the start it was never a guarantee we’d lead the whole race, but was able to hold first out front (in) the first stint.
“There was safety cars, there was this and that but to lead literally from start to finish, I don’t think any of us expected that.
“There was something in me on Friday, I knew something good was to come.”
Ricciardo couldn’t believe he’d won a Grand Prix after struggling so much during the first half of the year.
“I’ve just been a sandbagging S.O.B. the whole year,” he joked. “I mean thirds, fourths, fifths, you might as well just win, so that’s what I did!
“Honestly, the August break was good just to reset so I felt better the last three weekends,” he added.
“To not only win but to get a one-two, it’s insane. For McLaren to be on the podium, it’s huge, let alone one-two.”
Ricciardo said it was far from guaranteed he would hold on for the win but he was determined to let nothing stop him from claiming an epic victory.
“When I had the lead … I’m talking to myself during the race today,” he told Sky Sports. “Even with the safety car, I thought at one point it was going to be close with Charles (Leclerc), I thought he might get like a free stop and I was still convinced that nothing was going to take it away from me today. So I just brought that desire.”
Emotional Ricciardo reflects on awesome achievement
Ricciardo was emotional when describing what the win meant to him, especially after struggling in his first season at McLaren, which he has described the “most challenging” year of his career.
“I’ll be honest, I don’t think it’s actually sunk in yet,” he said after the race.
“It’s actually probably the first time I’ve been overwhelmed by winning. I think as well because it’s been like over three years or something.
“I just know that no one would have predicted this to happen this year, especially after the first half of the year.”
The Perth native said he has experienced significant adversity this year but to overcome it makes the victory in Italy even sweeter.
“It’s easy to lose confidence and kind of lose your way but I think that’s just where perspective and everything comes to fruition and just knowing deep within yourself that it can happen and just never doubt yourself,” he said.
“I think if you truly love something and believe in it, then never doubt yourself. Some of the speed bumps along the way make moments like this so much sweeter.
“I’m just grateful I still have a chip on my shoulder. I don’t know, I’m just feeling everything right now.
“I’m not just saying it today because I’m here soaking in the glory, at times it’s been the most challenging year for me, not that I’ve shied away from that.
“If anything, I’ve enjoyed the adversity and the feelings that I’ve had internally because it’s kind of made me understand who I am a bit more as a person and a competitor. I definitely embraced it, but for sure there’s definitely been some low points.”
Ricciardo was close to tears speaking about how hard it has been not seeing his family due to the pandemic.
“Then you have on top of that, like not seeing mum and dad for freaking over a year,” he said.
“I’m very close to family, I’m a very affectionate person and sometimes there’s nothing you want more than just a cuddle from mum and dad and a little pad on the back.
“That’s made the hard days harder but I think it also helped me get to this point.”
Italian Grand Prix results
1. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren)
2. Lando Norris (McLaren
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
4. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
7. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)
8. Fernando Alonso (Alpine)
9. George Russell (Williams)
10. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)