Much has been made of the meteoric rise of young Daniel Ricciardo this year, with Red Bull’s hottest of hot properties lighting up a Formula One World Championship dominated by Mercedes thus far.
Ricciardo is the only man to win a race, or two of them, this season with the exception of the two Mercedes drivers of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. The affable Australian has won the hearts of many in 2014 by outperforming his car in performances not unlike what we have become accustomed to seeing from Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso. Red Bull this season have been a shadow of what they were in previous years, mostly down to the slow, unreliable Renault Power Unit giving away 50 bhp.
And yet, if Ricciardo had kept his second place in Australia and had things gone smoothly in Malaysia, where he had been fifth, he would be 44 points behind Rosberg. Or, in simpler terms, 2 race wins. He has comfortably beaten Sebastian Vettel when both have made it to the chequered flag in a large portion of races, and whilst Vettel has bore the brunt of Red Bull’s reliability issues he has simply been little match for the man from Perth. And when you consider just how easily Vettel dominated Mark Webber, you start to see just how well Ricciardo has been driving.
In what appears to have been a whirlwind of large smiles and youthful enthusiasm, Ricciardo has taken 2014 by storm after two solid years with Red Bull’s B team, Toro Rosso. There he was always a notoriously strong qualifier, whilst falling away in races often because of a poor start or the strategy constraints starting so high up put on a traditional midfield team such as the Faenza squad. Nevertheless, Red Bull knew that they had unearthed a star, and when Mark Webber passed on the mantle at the end of 2013, Ricciardo was always the likely choice over teammate Jean-Eric Vergne.
And boy weren’t Red Bull vindicated?
Ricciardo has made the transition as naturally as a caterpillar to a butterfly. A series of strong performances post-Malaysia showed the viewing public fragments of what we were going to get from him, before that elusive, if somewhat inherited win, came in Canada. He backed this up with a podium at Silverstone and an excellent recovery in Germany to finish fifth, before that breathtaking victory in Hungary in which he showed true guts and determination to pass the wily old fox of Fernando Alonso in the dying embers. Hamilton, in a much powerful Mercedes, could not do likewise. And that’s a credit to Daniel, rather than a criticism of Lewis.
Ricciardo has stated that whilst the maths says he can win the title he will do his utmost, and whilst it looks more than unlikely that he will actually take the World Championship he has certainly done his stock no harm at all. Of all the drivers this year it is he who has performed the best comparative to his car, and he who has therefore been the best pound for pound driver this year. His performances coupled with the sackfuls of honours Vettel has have made the Red Bull driver pairing the strongest, on talent alone, on this year’s Formula One grid.
The question remains, can he show the type of consistency that matches the performances of Alonso and Vettel over the last four years. If he can, then given the right car he will go on to conquer all before as Vettel and Schumacher have done before him, and we may just be witnessing the beginning of something very special indeed.