Just as Red Bull was beginning a stampede, it was cowed into stunned silence by one of the worst operational blunders imaginable in Monaco. Charles Bradley muses over the repercussions.
"Just save it, nothing you could say could make it any better, just save it." Daniel Ricciardo's words on his Monaco Grand Prix in-lap said it all, much like Lewis Hamilton's 12 months earlier: "I've lost this race, haven't I?"
Last Sunday, it was Hamilton – the victim last year – who was the unlikely victor. For once, Mercedes had been toppled from its perch on raw pace – yet this time it was Red Bull's turn to botch a pitstop and lose a stick-on race win, like Lewis had suffered in 2015.
Then, as now for Ricciardo, Hamilton had an apologetic team confessing to a tactical blunder. Just as Mercedes got its numbers wrong, Red Bull was guilty of a pitbox panic.
Not what you'd expect from four-time world champion team; it goes to show it can happen to the best of them.
Losing the opportunist knack
Go back two years, and Ricciardo – the 'Honey Badger' – was supreme at netting unlikely race wins whenever the opportunity arose.
In Canada, then Hungary and then Spa, he seized on any opportunity and scored three excellent grand prix wins. That he's still stuck on that number, given the circumstances of the last two races (laps led: 54), and you can almost feel his pain.
In Barcelona he was plain unlucky, victim of a 50/50 strategy call that went the way of his teammate, Max Verstappen.
But Monaco wasn't bad luck, it was bad organisation and process, and smacked of sheer panic. Hamilton's gamble of extending his wet-tyre stint to make it straight to a change for slicks saved him a second pitstop, while Ricciardo had (sensibly, given he had everything to lose) taken the intermediate route and now required slicks.
But Mercedes' decision to run the ultrasoft was a signal of its intent. Red Bullhad prepared softs for Ricciardo, and suddenly the prospect of him running tyres two steps harder than his nearest pursuer triggered the rushed call to take supersofts instead. The supersofts that were stuck right at the back of the garage…
There can be little more forlorn sight in grand prix racing than the race leader sat in the pits at Monaco with no wheels on his wagon, revving his engine as if to say "come on!"
But the damage was done; a decision was taken that simply couldn't be executed in time in the circumstances. Something broke in the chain of command, the correct options (easy in hindsight) being to say "no, it's too late" for the switch from softs to supersofts or leaving him out an extra lap.
Giving up track position is a mortal sin in Monte Carlo, something Hamilton knew all too well from 2015.
Hamilton's high praise
Another point that struck me was Hamilton's post-race comments. Amid his regular "blessed" remarks (indeed he is), and even taking the time to thank the marshals (which was nice), he made a point of commending Ricciardo. High praise indeed, as Hamilton is quite remiss when it comes to dishing out kudos to rivals.
"He drove phenomenally all weekend," gushed Lewis. "Just one of the best drivers I've raced against, really he did a fantastic job. I'm looking forward to many more battles with him."
Maybe he was just being nice, knowing exactly what it feels like to lose a Monaco GP victory in that fashion. But that's the sort of stuff he reserves for Fernando Alonso, so he must be truly impressed.
What happens now?
Ricciardo is undoubtedly still feeling a whole range of emotions, ranging from disappointment to downright betrayal. This borderline breach of trust will be interesting to monitor – the last thing Red Bull needs is any schism forming.
On the other side of the garage, how must Verstappen be feeling too? From hero in Barcelona to zero in Monaco, where he simply tried too hard to impress. Had he not shunted in qualifying, might he have been in the position to benefit from Ricciardo's pitstop nightmare – imagine that, a second victory snatched? Just think of the fireworks then…
Perhaps a good pointer here is how Hamilton has dealt with his disappointment over the mechanical failures that have blighted his season and lit up the internet with conspiracy theories. He's bit his lip, toed the party line.
Ricciardo must focus on all the times that Red Bull has made the right calls, rather than dwell too much on recent past. Verstappen must regroup and tone down his attack in Montreal – another track that bites (Champions' Wall anyone?).
So we head to Canada with Lewis back in his happy place and the wind knocked out of Nico Rosberg's sails – he was poor on race day on a track where he's won the past three times.
Red Bull has it all to prove again, despite its phenomenal turnaround thanks to finding some missing chevaux from Renault, and Ferrari still claiming it can win the championship despite little or no evidence to back that up.
Should be fun…