Daniel Ricciardo breathed life into the Formula One season in Malaysia on Sunday night, claiming the second race not won by a Mercedes driver in the past 22 outings.
The Australian claimed his first win in two seasons after he fended off teammate Max Verstappen before taking advantage of Lewis Hamilton’s cruel engine failure to lead home a Red Bull one-two at the Sepang International Circuit.
“It’s been an interesting two years since my last victory so it feels awesome,” Ricciardo said.
“I’m very grateful for it.”
Ricciardo’s win in the Red Bull was as exhilarating as it was desperately needed for the sport.
Hamilton and Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg had previously won all but one of the 15 races this year, and 32 of 38 in the previous two years.
Ricciardo and Verstappan went wheel-to-wheel through a number of corner two-thirds of the way through the race, jostling for position as Hamilton’s engine blew up.
“To race Formula One like that, high-speed corners, to be inches from each other – it’s fun,” Ricciardo said.
“You’re in the heat of battle, you’re seeing red but at the same time you’ve got to smile.
“You know the guy that’s two metres to the right of you is having the same amount of fun and you’re both trying to take what was eventually the lead of the race.”
Ricciardo celebrated his podium triumph by pouring champagne into his boot for a “shoey”, before taking two swigs.
He then called on team boss Christian Horner, Verstappen and Nico Rosberg, who finished third despite a first-corner collision with Sebastian Vettel, to take the challenge. And to their credit, and much hilarity, they did.
The win moves Ricciardo 44 points clear of Kimi Raikkonen in third place in the championship, while Rosberg goes 23 ahead of Hamilton at the top.
The Australian also dedicated his win to the late Jules Bianchi, who died in a crash in Japan shortly after Ricciardo’s last victory.
“It was definitely a life-changing moment – the loss of Jules – as a competitor and a friend,” Ricciardo said.
“That was hard to take. I would have loved to have won sooner, and dedicated this a bit sooner.”
Meanwhile pole-sitter Hamilton was left crouching down on his knees in the gravel at turn one with his hands on his helmet after he saw a golden opportunity go up in smoke.
It could be the defining image of a championship which increasingly appears to be falling in Rosberg’s direction.