It cannot have been easy being Daniel Ricciardo in the paddock in Barcelona two weeks ago following the Spanish Grand Prix.
The Australian for the first half of the race at the Circuit de Catalunya had looked on track to win for the first time since Belgium in 2014 as he led after the Mercedes-GP cars of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg tangled on the first lap and took themselves out.
But, Red Bull Racing's decision to split their pit strategies, in fear of the speed of Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari, was to be his undoing.
He did not have sufficient speed advantage to make a three-stop strategy work, while teammate Max Verstappen went for just two.
Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari both used great tyre management skills to make their Pirellis last, and Ricciardo became stuck behind Vettel, despite being quicker, in the final stages, but unable to get past on a track notoriously difficult to pass on.
A race that had promised so much ended up being fourth, with a puncture on the penultimate lap the final salt in the wound.
Ricciardo had to put a brave face on his despair, given it was still a joyous day for his team as Verstappen enjoyed a fairy-tale victory.
He put his frustrations to one side and joined in the team celebration photo, even cracking a smile.
The reason for the internal agony is that victory chances have been rare for Ricciardo and Red Bull.
The RB12 chassis is one of the best on the grid, but the TAG Heuer-badged Renault power unit lacks the grunt to match Mercedes at most tracks.
So, when a chance at the top spot comes you have to grasp it, and Ricciardo has been excellent at doing that largely.
He won three times in 2014, and challenged for victory in Hungary and Singapore last year and challenged in the early stages in the United States.
Barcelona will have burnt him as it was a great opportunity and it was his teammate who took it.
How Ricciardo bounced back was going to be fascinating, but he made a big statement of intent by taking pole position on Saturday for Sunday's Monaco Grand Prix.
It was a major change in fortunes as Verstappen crashed out during qualifying and the teenager faces the daunting prospect of starting 21st today.
It had been expected to be another chance for Ricciardo to be competitive, with the tight streets of the municipality putting an emphasis more on aerodynamic grip rather than on horsepower.
Ricciardo had made an immediate impact on Thursday by topping the times in practice by six tenths of a second.
But he backed that up yesterday as his lap of 1 minute, 13.622 seconds proved too good for the dominant Mercedes cars, ending the German marque’s run of 11 poles in a row, dating back to Singapore last September.
The Mercedes pair of Rosberg and Hamilton, who line up second and third today, both had less than ideal final parts to qualifying as both had issues with their engines, but Rosberg acknowledged that Ricciardo’s pace had been genuinely too hot for them.
The championship leader gallantly admitting: “He was just quick today, a well deserved pole. I wasn’t quick enough.”
Of his performance, Ricciardo said in the post-qualifying news conference: “It’s a special place and I knew we’d have a shot at it here.
“It looked good from Thursday. I had it in my mind the whole time and, after Barcelona, I felt like I’ve been driving well – and not got the rewards.
“So I came into this weekend with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief that I could be in this position.
“I’ve always enjoyed this place, we’ve got a good package and it’s nice to make the most of it.”
Ricciardo should, barring a poor getaway at the start, be in a similar position to where he was in Barcelona, out front in the opening laps of the race.
If Barcelona was awkward to overtake on, then Monte Carlo is nigh on impossible, with the only way around a driver ahead being if they make a mistake.
Ricciardo even has the advantage of being on Pirelli’s super-soft tyre, while the Mercedes pair, and Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari start on the faster wearing ultra soft compound, meaning the Red Bull man can run a longer first stint while his rivals pit earlier.
“We feel it opens up a few more options for the race,” he said. “I don’t think there is too much difference in pure performance, but it should have a better tyre life.”
Ricciardo has a great chance to win today, but do not expect them to be challenging for race wins every weekend.
The long straights of Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canada in two weeks should see them fall behind Mercedes and Ferrari again on raw pace, which is why it is so vital Ricciardo capitalises on his chance today as there is no guarantee of when it will next spring up.
Verstappen took his chance in Spain, the question now is can Ricciardo?
* With agency
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