Daniel Ricciardo
Daniel Ricciardo won Red Bull's first race of the 2018 season. In this picture, winner Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the Formula One Grand Prix of China at Shanghai International Circuit in Shanghai, China, April 15, 2018. Lars Baron/Getty Images

Daniel Ricciardo won his first race of the season at the Chinese Grand Prix on Sunday after Red Bull Racing made a brilliant strategy call when the safety car was deployed on lap 30 following a collision between the two Toro Rosso cars.

Valtteri Bottas just about held on to second place after coming under intense pressure from Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages as the two Finn’ joined the Australian on the podium.

Max Verstappen finished in fourth place in what was a good day for Red Bull, but the Dutchman will drop down a place after he was handed a 10-second penalty for his collision with Sebastian Vettel in the final stages of the race. Lewis Hamilton will move up a place after finishing in fifth with Nico Hulkenburg putting in a great drive to finish in sixth ahead of McLaren’s Fernando Alonso in seventh place.

Pole position man and pre-race favorite Vettel had to settle for eighth place after a poor strategy and a wrongly timed safety car ensured he struggled for tire grip in the later stages of the race. He also collided with Verstappen, which dropped him further down the field.

Carlos Sainz and Kevin Magnussen wrapped up the top ten with Renault again recording a double point’s finish. However, the race was all about Ferrari’s poor strategy to start with and Red Bull taking advantage of the safety car to ensure they had the fastest vehicle in the final stages of the race.

Vettel’s two-race winning start was ended by Ricciardo, who started sixth on the grid and was not in the picture in the first half of the race. The Ferrari driver led until the first round of stops and it looked like he was in control after he opened a three second lead over second placed Bottas.

However, they seemed to miscalculate the gap as Vettel came out behind the Mercedes driver after his first stop, who had stopped a few laps earlier. That was the beginning of the end for the German driver as on lap 30 following a collision between the two Toro Rosso cars, the safety car was deployed just as the two leaders passed the pit entry.

The Red Bulls, who were behind in third and fifth, were more fortunate and immediately ducked into the pits for fresh rubber. They did not lose too many places after their stop and it became clear they will be contenders for the win as the three cars ahead of them were on older and slower tires.

After the restart, the Red Bulls were clearly quicker and went about putting pressure on the cars ahead. Verstappen was ahead of teammate Ricciardo but he ran wide after an overtaking move on Hamilton went wrong, which allowed his teammate ahead. The Australian driver made use of the good fortune and wasted no time in passing first Hamilton, then Vettel and finally Bottas to take the race lead.

Verstappen, meanwhile, took some time to get going after his trip off the track, but their fresher tires made them far quicker than the Mercedes and the Ferrari. He first went past Hamilton and his lack of patience saw him collide with Vettel on Turn 14, which saw both the cars spin.

The Ferrari driver rejoined the track fifth place behind Hamilton and the Red Bull driver, and his lack of grip was evident as Hulkenburg passed him immediately. Vettel was then passed by Alonso in the penultimate lap to make it a miserable afternoon for the championship leader.

Raikkonen also benefited after it initially looked like Ferrari had ruined his chances of a podium by keeping him out too long, but his late stop and the safety car’s arrival ensured he had fresh tires for the latter stages of the race. He passed Hamilton and closed in on Bottas, but had to settle for third place in the end.

Very few would have predicted Red Bull Racing to be standing on the top step of the podium after Ferrari had dominated qualifying Saturday. But with all cars equal on race pace, it became clear the team with the better strategy will always have a chance to make up ground during the race.

Hamilton’s fourth placed finish and Vettel only taking eighth has brought the Drivers’ championship alive. The Briton was 17-points behind at the start of the Chinese Grand Prix, but he has closed the gap to just nine points going into the fourth race of the campaign at the Baku Circuit in Azerbaijan on April 29.