Upon his appointment at Red Bull in place of countryman Mark Webber, the individual known primarily for sporting an eternal rictus grin wasn’t given much hope of competing with, much less routinely enjoying the measure of his four-time World Champion team-mate.
Yet, ten events into the supposed psychotherapy, Daniel Ricciardo is spoken of as a future champion. He has won the respect of supporters, media and most significantly, his competitors.
The 25-year old has acquitted himself to such an extent that his maiden victory at last month’s Canadian Grand Prix is largely academic.
After his second place at Australia was taken away, Ricciardo refused to wallow in despair. He was dealt another raw deal at Malaysia – a bungled pit-stop whilst running fourth sending him into retirement, as well as earning a ten-place grid penalty for Bahrain. Despite the setback, he belatedly opened his account with fourth place, from which point, his campaign has been a model of consistency.
The West Australian has since placed fourth, third, third, first, eighth, third and sixth, to lie third in the standings. That the Mercedes duo are essentially untouchable, coupled with the nightmare start to his season, renders this even more impressive.
But it’s his racecraft and faith in his own judgement which have stood out, not least at the past two events, where he has recovered from compromising situations to achieve an optimum outcome.
At Silverstone – having misread the fickle Northamptonshire and bordering Buckinghamshire skies, Ricciardo was consigned to eighth on the grid, whilst Vettel timed his run to perfection to line up second. On the Sunday, Ricciardo hung with Vettel and Jenson Button for the first portion of the race, then proceeded to cover 37 laps on a single set of tyres to snatch third position, much to the chagrin of the German, who finished fifth following a highly entertaining scrap with Fernando Alonso.
Last weekend at Hockenheim, Ricciardo deftly avoided a flipped Felipe Massa at turn one, albeit relegated to fifteenth. He recovered to sixth, engaging in some spectacular combat with Alonso, indeed nearly pipping the Spaniard on the line.
Ricciardo’s racing was hard yet fair, where others would concede the position, he kept dicing, and when he knew the fight was over, he didn’t attempt anything rash.
It moved Alonso to laud the Australian as “doing a great job, driving fantastically… and fighting with intelligence.”
The Spaniard also remarked “he was battling very smart… taking my slipstream after I passed him, and breaking very late, attacking very late… he never missed the corner.”
High praise indeed from a double World Champion, perhaps in the same respect as Michael Schumacher foreshadowed of a young Alonso.
If Ricciardo’s progress continues at this rate, he will have set the platform for an extremely bright future. Making Sebastian Vettel appear ordinary isn’t an easy task, consigning him to the secondary driver position after half a season is another matter.
The individual with rictus grin will soon be associated with a whole lot more if he hasn’t already…