Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo has been one of F1’s most impressive drivers

Graham Caygill writes taking results in context, few can feel as good about their performance the last few seasons as Daniel Ricciardo, who proved his talent again on Sunday.
Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull shown in the paddock over the weekend in Singapore. Diego Azubel / EPA / September 15, 2016
Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull shown in the paddock over the weekend in Singapore. Diego Azubel / EPA / September 15, 2016

Considering that the man who had started from pole position dominated the race, leading all but one lap, which came during the pit-stop window mid-race, the Singapore Grand Prix was much more entertaining than it sounded.

Especially when the driver who prevailed, Nico Rosberg, was continuing the dominance of Mercedes-GP, who have now won 14 of 15 races this season.

The excitement came from a superb drive from Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, who clawed back almost 28 seconds in the closing laps on fresher tyres, to hound Rosberg to the line, finishing just 0.4 seconds behind.

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He also finished comfortably ahead of the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton, the first time that the triple world champion has been beaten by another car other than his teammate this year in a race where he did not have a bad start or an engine penalty to hinder him. 

Ricciardo put a brave face on missing out on what would have been a fourth win of his career. Certainly it was not like Monaco, a race in which he was fastest, but was let down by a botched pit stop that cost him victory.

Ricciardo has been limited by his machinery, to an extent, at Red Bull since he arrived at the team in 2014 after two seasons with Toro Rosso.

The Red Bull car has remained one of the most impressive in Formula One in terms of aerodynamic performance, but the lack of speed in the Renault engine, now rebadged as a TAG-Heuer power unit for this season, has always meant they have been at a disadvantage to Mercedes on several tracks where long straights mean lots of horse power is required to be competitive.

Tracks such as Marina Bay Circuit on Sunday, Monte Carlo and the Hungaroring in Hungary have been the only ones to allow Ricciardo to challenge for victory on outright pace. He led for half of the Spanish Grand Prix in May, but that was because Rosberg and Hamilton had collided on the opening lap.

That is the nature of F1 these days – the engine is the most decisive element. Mercedes have done the best job and have dominated, winning 46 of the 53 races since the move to 1.6 litre V6 turbo engines in 2014.

Where the quality of Ricciardo shines through is in the fact that every time he has had a chance to win a race, he has been a challenger.

He won the three races not won by Mercedes in 2014, was a major threat in Hungary and Singapore last year, and again has been a major contender in Spain, Monaco and Singapore this year.

He went through a rough patch mid-season after missing out in Spain, with teenage teammate Max Verstappen getting the victory, due to a poor strategy call by his team. He was then outperformed by the Dutchman in Canada, Austria and Britain.

But Ricciardo has since tempered the hype around Verstappen, and has finished ahead of him in the past five races.

While Ricciardo was fighting with the Mercedes cars on Sunday, Verstappen was nowhere, largely due to a poor start, and finished more than a minute down the road in sixth place.

It was a poor day at the office for Verstappen, and a bad time to do it at a race where the chance to fight at the front was very possible, as Ricciardo proved.

Verstappen, 18, remains a formidable talent, but it is impressive that Ricciardo has responded to the Dutchman’s arrival by raising his own game.

None of the final six races realistically suit Red Bull’s strengths, but even if Ricciardo ends the season winless he has done enough to demonstrate that he could be a championship challenger given a more competitive package.

He remains the only man to have outscored Sebastian Vettel in the same car over a season, in 2014, and he has got the better, so far, of the man most F1 pundits have pegged as the sport’s next superstar.

He deserves more than just to be fighting for wins once or twice a season, but until then, F1 fans should be grateful for him making races like Singapore more interesting.

gcaygill@thenational.ae

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Published: September 19, 2016 04:00 AM

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