As Red Bull Racing closed its doors on Friday for Formula One’s mandatory summer holiday, the team's rookie racer Daniel Ricciardo clocked off on a high.
The Australian with the grin as wide as the Sydney Harbor Bridge has plenty of reasons to smile after his surprise star turn in the first half of the 2014 season.
The unassuming 25-year-old has asserted himself as the best of the rest, with two stylish victories and third place in the drivers’ championship.
Preseason favorite Mercedes, with its mighty engine, has dominated the first 11 races of 2014 as drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton have won nine grands prix between them in a scintillating duel for the world title.
But the real surprise this year is that just one other driver has dimmed Mercedes’ dominance – and that man is Ricciardo.
The secret to his success? Well, behind his happy-go-lucky demeanor lies a core of steely determination.
“You see me happy and easygoing but there is definitely a ruthless side to me,” Ricciardo explained to CNN at the start of the season.
“I do get peed off, I do love competition and I hate losing - I always have. As a kid, I had fights with friends over losing video games.”
When Ricciardo was picked to replace the retiring Mark Webber as Sebastian Vettel’s teammate, there had only been glimpses of this inner steel.
In two seasons with Red Bull’s sister team Toro Rosso he’d done a decent job, claiming 13 top-10 race finishes and showing an aptitude for dragging pace out of the car in qualifying.
But there was skepticism among F1’s inner circles that he had done enough to earn the most-wanted seat in F1 – a drive that world champions Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen had made inquiries about.
“The team noticed a bit more of a confidence about me," Ricciardo told CNN. "I’m coming with a very hungry mentality.”
That hunger and confidence quickly translated on track. On home turf at the opening race of the season in Melbourne, Ricciardo finished second, only to be disqualified because of a fuel-flow irregularity beyond his control.
He finally got his champagne moment with wins in Canada and Hungary, and he remains the only non-Mercedes driver to take the checkered flag in 2014.
His latest win at the Hungaroring last weekend was a brilliant illustration of his skills. It was a complex race which relied on clear strategic thinking and racing instinct on a wet-dry track.
“I’ve been surprised at how quickly he got to grips with the RB10,” his race engineer Simon Rennie told the Red Bull Racing website in Hungary.
“He’s also impressed me with how well he can instinctively find the performance limit of the car very quickly.”
And so to the second Ricciardo revelation of 2014.
He has defied expectations to put his illustrious, and seemingly invincible, teammate Vettel in the shade.
It is easy to forget that not all of Vettel’s four back-to-back world titles have been won easily but, since the last major rule changes in 2009, the German has at least always understood the car at his fingertips.
This season, the 27-year-old has struggled with the feel of the RB10, particularly under braking. The end of the era of blown diffusers – which affects the car’s rear downforce – has also been another challenging adaption.
Ricciardo has a 6-5 qualifying advantage over Vettel and a 9-2 lead in race position (including his Australian GP result before the disqualification).
“I genuinely want to see if I have what it takes, if I am the best in the world,” Ricciardo explained. “And I’ve got the best guy to measure myself to.”
There is one more surprise in the new-look Red Bull rivalry – the drivers on either side of the garage still like each other!
Spending time in the same room as them, it’s clear they genuinely enjoy each other’s company and, in particular, share the same sense of humor.
“I think we have a lot of similarities,” Ricciardo said. “Like our personalities. His doesn’t always come across on TV but if you get him one-on-one he does like a joke and he does smile a lot.
“But then again, when the helmet is on he’s ruthless and competitive and doesn’t like losing either. So some things we definitely agree on!”
The duo's friendly banter may be warmer than the frosty rivalry between Vettel and Webber, but the four-time world champion won’t want to be left out in the cold for long. He has a reputation – and commercial value – to protect.
When Red Bull returns to work on August 18, Vettel will be intent on surprising his teammate in the remaining eight races, while Ricciardo is eager to burnish his brilliant season.
Mercedes may be motoring to the titles, but Red Bull and Ricciardo are still putting the fizz into F1.
His "secret" is that he's been incredibly lucky. There are eight drivers with Renault power. Seven of the eight have been constantly plagued with engine problems, and then there's Ricciardo, who's yet to have a serious engine issue this year. In both of his wins he had the good fortune that the drivers ahead of him in faster cars ran into problems allowing him to inherit the victory. He's still a good driver, but his results so far have been greatly flattered by factors outside his control.
Dont ya just hate that and the harder he works the luckier he gets
Riccardo is a revelation this season. Fast, composed under presure situation and can overtake decisively. Not to mention his cheek to cheek smile that makes him a very lovable champion of the the future!
fireblade22 is on the right track but he has only hit on the tip of the iceberg/ Riccardio has not only been extremely lucky with the circumstanxes of F1 this year, but he has been lucky in life to an altogether different level with hsi circumstances in life. A rich kid froma rich town during a mining boom, he didnt even shine in his local kart club – yet hos pafents had the funds to blow $1.5 million on a punt at showbiz success. Ok it worked – but dont kid yourself that he is talented – there were 6 to 12 other drivers even in his own local Perth kart club who were undoubtedly better talents. This really all just proives that F1 is a pop-contest reality show – not a true showcase of talent at all.
so he is just consistently lucky, He has made his own luck. I am sure HRT's car had been the death of the career of less determined drivers
Doesn't that sound just a little more than sour grapes!
An untalented driver would not be in the car in the first place, and not able to achieve the results he has.
Fresh News: Max Verstappen will replace Jean-Eric Vergne from the start of next season 2015 at Toro Rosso F1.
The 16-year-old, who is the son of former F1 driver Jos Verstappen, only graduated from karts this year and impressive performances in the European F3 Championship saw him join Red Bull’s junior programme at the start of August.
Verstappen will be just 17 when he takes to the grid next year, becoming F1’s youngest ever driver (quote from skysports.) >> This is NEWS guys from CNN, so use it and bring it on!!