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Daniel Ricciardo in staggering 10-month first at Singapore Grand Prix

Daniel Ricciardo smiles in the McLaren garage at the Singapore GP.
Daniel Ricciardo secured his first top-five finish since last season with a captivating drive at the Singapore Grand Prix. (Photo by Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Formula One was back under the lights in Singapore and Daniel Ricciardo was back in the points, with his fifth place finish on Sunday night a welcome return to form for the Australian.

Ricciardo only has a handful of races to prove himself to another F1 team before he leaves McLaren at the end of the season, and his first top five finish since the Saudi Arabian GP in December 2021 will no doubt be a confidence booster for the 33-year-old.

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Starting from a lowly 16th on the grid, Ricciardo made up three places on the first lap before the race became one of attrition on a greasy track, thanks to a downpour of rain in the hours before the race.

The start of the race was delayed by an hour to give the surface some more time to clear, with the high humidity at the Marina Bay circuit meant getting around would be a stiff challenge.

Cools heads both behind the wheel and in the McLaren garage saw the team also secure fourth with Lando Norris, vaulting the team above rivals Alpine for fourth place in the constructors championship.

With his options seemingly dwindling for a 2023 race seat, it was a timely reminder to the F1 world for Ricciardo - though the team was helped along by a timely safety car that vaulted Ricciardo into seventh place, ahead of the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll.

Reigning world champion Max Verstappen and Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton both had nights to forget, with Ricciardo and Norris able to steam past both drivers as they made errors on a drying but still very tricky circuit.

Ricciardo said his and the team's patience had paid off, resisting the temptation to make an early switch from the intermediate tyre all drivers started on to slicks.

“It was a good start, we made up three places on lap 1,” he told Sky Sports after the chequered flag.

“Then when you’re 10th or just outside the points, it’s tempting to get a little desperate or try to be the hero and the first on slicks and try to make up a big amount of time.

“But I think we were mature, it didn’t feel right. I think George Russell went on slicks quite early and it was taking him a while to get up to speed. So I was like, ‘Whilst we’re still quicker let’s stay out’. Gasly went in and he was slower so we kind of said, ‘Let’s be patient, let’s stay out’.

“Then of course if a Safety Car comes that’s best case scenario. Yuki was in the barriers and obviously not for him but that was a good situation for us.

“Obviously that’s let’s say good fortune but I think through our maturity we created some of that ourselves and then top five, somehow, someway.

“Saudi 2021 was the last time I had a top five, a year ago. Pretty sad I know.

“But I think for everyone we needed this — Lando’s in fourth, it’s a big day for the team. “Finally it’s like everyone can be in good spirits. I’m definitely too tired to party but we’ll have a little drink at the track with the team and celebrate what’s been a good day.”

F1 fans were thrilled to see the kind of pace they have grown accustomed to seeing from Ricciardo over the years re-emerge.

Daniel Ricciardo banks best F1 finish of the season in Singapore

While it was a difficult day at the office for Verstappen, his teammate Sergio Perez had no problems whatsoever after jumping polesitter Charles Leclerc off the start line.

Though the Ferrari driver put immense pressure on Perez, never more than a few seconds behind and frequently right up behind the Mexican star, the Red Bull driver was cool under pressure to take his second victory of the season and fourth in F1.

Perez had to push extremely hard in the final laps of the race to open a margin between him and Leclerc after he was hit with a five-second penalty by the stewards for a safety car infringement that was applied after the race, but he managed to pull away by just over seven seconds to seal the win.

"That is without a shadow of a doubt the best drive of his career," Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said.

"Tricky conditions, he'd nailed the start, converted the start, settled himself into the race, he looked after those intermediate tyres, safety cars coming and going, re-starts, and he just was always in control, super-cool. That's world class."

Sergio Perez celebrates with the Red Bull team after winning the Singapore GP.
Sergio Perez won the Singapore GP convincingly ahead of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc, the fourth victory of his F1 career. (Photo by Bryn Lennon - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images)

Verstappen's equal-lowest position this year matches his seventh at the British GP in July. He also had two retirements in the first three races.

The Dutchman had won the past five races but needed to win here and finish 22 points ahead of Leclerc to be crowned champion for a second straight season. That could happen next weekend at the Japanese GP.

Verstappen made a mistake after the second safety car restart, following AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda's crash on Lap 36. When Verstappen tried to overtake Lando Norris' McLaren, he locked his tires and needed to pit again.

"It's just a very frustrating weekend," said Verstappen.

"We have five races left and we have a big lead but I want to have a good weekend every single time."

With the track still damp, drivers decided against changing to quicker tyres — apart from Mercedes' George Russell, who struggled for grip.

Hamilton made a rare mistake on lap 33 and thudded into the barriers. Soon after, the leading drivers changed tyres in a flurry of stops. They did so just before the safety car was deployed again following Tsunoda's error.

"The problems that we have with this car are magnified in the rain," Hamilton later said.

Verstappen overtook Sebastian Vettel's Aston Martin right at the end for seventh place.

With AAP

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