Daniel Ricciardo and the art of backmarkerdom in Formula 1
Red Bull Racing
Posted By: James Allen  |  18 Jul 2011   |  6:57 pm GMT  |  118 comments

Daniel Ricciardo did not have an easy time of it in his F1 debut at Silverstone.

The conditions were tricky for all the drivers, but especially for one who was racing in the full glare of public attention for the first time.

But what was really interesting about his race for me was learning that there is an art to backmarkerdom, which drivers in that position must learn.

Basically if you drive a Hispania or one of the slower cars, you are going to be lapped several times by the leader during a race and by plenty of other cars too. The art is in not losing too much time in the process. Ricciardo will have spent as much time looking in his mirrors for Red Bulls, Ferraris and the rest as he will looking at the track.

I’m told by insiders that by moving off line, getting the tyres dirty and cleaning them up again, which takes a few corners, he was losing around 4 seconds every time a car lapped him, relative to what he would have done on a clear lap.

In comparison his team mate Tonio Liuzzi has now got being lapped down to a fine art and loses only around 0.8sec every time. So Ricciardo was a long way behind Liuzzi at the end. This is something he will be looking to rectify this weekend at the Nurburgring.

It is always interesting when a driver with a lot of promise is obliged to start his career in a backmarker car because it is an unaccustomed position for them to be in, having usually been winners who dominated the junior categories.

Ricciardo was also slightly disappointed after qualifying that he did’t get more out of the Pirelli tyres and this is another area he will be wanting to improve this weekend.

Ricciardo lost seven seconds to Liuzzi in the first ten laps on a damp track on intermediate tyres before the pit stops.

He was half a second slower than the Italian in qualifying and his fastest race lap was four tenths slower.

Moving to HRT from the relative security of the Friday test role at Toro Rosso was a bit of a gamble for Ricciardo and his Red Bull mentor Helmut Marko.

He was a young guy full of potential with fast lap times in the two young guns tests he’s done for Red Bull and no pressure on him on Fridays. He has to show strong progress over the ten races he’s contesting or some of that sheen will come off.

I reminded him that Damon Hill had a similar experience at Silverstone in 1992 in an uncompetitive Brabham, being lapped by Nigel Mansell. But a year later Damon was winning races and four years afterwards he became the world champion.

On a side note, with the team having been taken over by Spanish investors Thesan Capital, there is some suggestion that former GP2 front runner Javier Villa may do some Friday test drives and that in time Liuzzi may be replaced by the Spaniard.

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Ricciardo is over-rated – he won the F3 title but anyone could have in that car. He’s always been in the best machinery. Even his kart record isnt noteworthy. He’s just another silverspoon-fed richkid. I know that applies to the majority of F1 drivers – but many have done noteworthy things in less than the best machinery. I suspect the hype will die off in the reality check of his performance against Liuzzi (no star himself)


Thanks for the great explaination, I was very curious why Ricciardo had dropped so far behind.

I would be happy if you talk more about him. I think he has a great future ahead of him.

From the interviews I have watched it seems as though he is a very nice guy.


James, I was wondering if HRT is an abbreviation of HeRTz because they’re car gets rented out to a different driver every weekend


Thank you very much for your explanation. Watching the race on TV I was disappointed with almost never seeing Daniel and how, from the times, it seemed he was TOO slow. Very disappointed because I also picked him up in my radar as a possible top f1 driver. What you say gives a much better understanding of what was going on during the race.

There is one other aspect for which I thank you very much for the blog, one you possibly never thought of James, and that is that I am deaf and so interviews, commentaries, etc – nothing is subtitled inlive feeds- and I have to read it later to understand


So James, is it reasonable to assume that if Ricciardo can get on level with liuzzi in not losing so much time when being lapped that he will be seriously outperforming Tonio? 4 seconds every time he gets passed is a huge deficit. Is it right to assume that if that difference is accounted for, his performance in silverstone should make Tonio a bit nervous?


It’s early days. This is one handicap that they both have which drivers of faster cars do not face.


Also, the 4s a lap doesn’t tell the whole story – He might actually be losing 5s by being overtaken and then driving the rest of the track 1s faster than Liuzzi, therefore doing a better job that would show up more if they were both in, say, Renaults. Unfortunately, I don’t get access to the split times during the race so this is where the TV pundits might help us understand some of these inter-team rivals a bit better.


I do think Ricciardo has been covered a little bit much, not on this site where James’s coverage is very broad, but the BBC do seem to talk about him a lot. They seem to get a bit overexcited when there is a whiff of someone who might be good, like when Sergio Perez had a decent first race this season, they wouldn’t stop talking about Sergio Perez for a couple of weeks afterwards.

I think it’s a bit unfair on Ricciardo because he’s been hyped up by the coverage so it puts him under a lot of pressure to be amazing straight away, also people may start to become sick of hearing about him through no fault of his own.

I agree that HRT seem to swap their drivers around a lot, they seem quite an unsettled operation.


The guy had never driven the car before Friday, I think he did very well against an underrated teammate, he will be judged in later GP’s


Looks like my comment has generated lots of discussion/responses on the forum. Thanks everyone for taking time out to respond to my post. It seems everyone is missing the point I made here. And My point was how come none of the pundits think it was important for the lay fans to understand what it is to drive as a backmarker and why one can’t simply step on the brakes immediately after you have lead lap driver in your mirrors. How comes article like this was not published in defense of Heikki, Trulli, Glock, Di Grassi, Bruno Senna or Jérôme d’Ambrosio.

Ricciardo had to undergo and will undergo till he drives for HRT same plight that all the drivers for Lotus, Virgin, HRT have suffered last two years,

I used Narain/Liuzzi since they are the other drivers in the team that Ricciardo drives, it could have been any of the back marker drivers I have listed above.

@ Rob – Does Liuzzi/Narain being an “Old Hat” means they should be thrown under the bus it doesn’t matter if media/F1 pundits don’t give them fair coverage?

@ Mitchell – Does Sir William’s approval of Ricciardo makes him eligible for special treatment by press?

@Hisham Akhtar – The point is not about Narain Karthikeyan –Vs – Montiero and the 2005 season. The point is bias in reporting and positive coverage given to similar pedestrian performance (in a pedestrian car) of an English speaking driver.

@ All – Everybody who is claiming about positive press given to Kobayashi, Maldanado, and Perez. Looks like we are having a public memory syndrome (short memory) syndrome here. Every forum and media channel (English speaking) had their fair share of stab at Maldanado and his being in F1 was only due to monies he is bringing from questionable source. Perez was also associate with Maldanado and his connection with Mexican Billionaire.

Kobayashi was lucky (like Rosberg) since he had a good debut in strong mid-field car of Toyota. That strong debut saw him through the early part of 2010 season when his new team Sauber was clearly struggling due to lack of funds and direction. The murmur campaign questioning his presence on grid was gaining strength, just when James Key moved to Sauber and team started making progress since Valencia’10, that last lap pass on Alonso on fresh tyres stopped the murmur campaign.

@James – I understand this is blog site what is always called as “Journal of Opinion”. But the lay fans look at blogs like this as a source of authentic information and your views are accepted verbatim by lay fans given your stature of having all access to F1 internal workings. If this was a blog of a f1 fan who had no access to inner workings of F1, I would have just passed it off as “Journal of Opinion” and wouldn’t have bothered to make my point.

Thanks again for all your feedback and comments.


I think its fair to say that if it takes three attempts to get your point across then it’s not really working. I don’t like discussion about bias because the discussions tend to be biased and very dull in themselves. We let this one through because there were some worthwhile reactions, but we won’t be making a habit of this kind of discussion.


I think they made a mistake when they introduced the rule obliging backmarkers to move over and make it easy for the leaders to pass. Sure, no one wants to see the front runners excessively held up, but it used to be the case that lapping traffic was part of the racer’s art. Now they just cruise up behind and expect the slower car to get out of the way. The onus should be on the leading cars to overtake, not on the backmarker to pull over.


Can someone (i.e. you please, James) explain why backmarkers should move over to be lapped? Before you all go crazy at me, I know the rules say so, but what I’m getting at is this:

– all the cars are still racing;

– if someone is trying to overtake you it is affecting your position;

– if the leading cars are so good and fast they should be able to overtake the tailenders easily.

So why penalize backmarkers by forcing them out of the way? If the leaders are so good make them overtake backmarkers just like any other car. The blue flag rule is difficult to manage and implement, so just drop it.

And before someone says “but this is what cost Alonso the title” that’s is exactly my point (though we aren’t talking about a back marker in that case and there weren’t any blue flags). If he couldn’t overtake that’s his problem.

Next time Vettel/Webber/Alonso/Hamilton etc come up behind an HRT/Virgin/Lotus etc why shouldn’t they just have to overtake them just like any other car?


I think the lack of testing and the bottom teams usually picking drivers for money rather than talent is having a detrimental effect on the quality of F1 and makes me worry for the future. Only a small amount of true talent is able to get through with most of the field now made up of under funded and poorly performing teams who will likely never improve due to taking pay drivers who are not able to extract the maximum from the car (never mind actually develop it).

As for Ricciardo I think it is too early to tell. Being stuck in a poor car with the changeable conditions did not help him at all. He does need to get the measure of his team mate quickly though or he will soon be forgotten.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… (please) get rid of the blue flags!!!

Let’s see the fast guys fight their way past when lapping the slow guys. They can even use their DRS these days, so the job’s even easier.

As for HRT, Narain was way, way, way back in all races so far. Blatantly obvious that he was paying for his drive and not cutting the mustard in terms of race performance…


way way back as in 25 seconds ahead of his team mate with five laps to go in China? when his team decides to leave him on dead tyres (on one stop strategy)for his team mate to overtake him on fresher tyres??

Watching races with Time tracker gives one data that makes wonder, why teams mess up with one of their drivers, especially given that its that driver’s sponsors that are paying the teams bills.

Pundits don’t have time to explain this aspect of F1 to the lay fans…


Are you calling me a lay fan? Aaaah-ha, now that’s hilarious!

Perhaps I should have put the word “generally” in the sentence “way, way, way back” to allow for Narain’s China GP exception? Or perhaps I should have put “My perception is…” in front of it all? Chill Williams4Ever, the proof of the pudding is that Narain’s no longer in the car (India excepted – or so we’re told).

I have nothing against Narain… he’s just not good enough! [Sorry… I forgot to say that, that’s in my own humble opinion :-)]

Scuderia Missile

How long would it have taken to pit and put new tyres on in China?


How long would it have taken to pit and put new tyres on in China?

>> And he still would have been ahead by 6 seconds after that pitstop. So the quandary is lay fans don’t dig deep enough into data and make very superficial comments(most of the times quoting pundits view on the matter) and pundits don’t enlighten the fans appropriately….


I agree, it is too easy these days for the leaders to make their way through the pack. I remember back in 1988 (or was it 98) when McLaren won 15 out of 16 races. It would have been 16 if a backmarker had not taken Senna out as he tried to overtake. Whilst not ideal for the drivers (and they’d need to ensure safety) it did make races more interesting. It used to be a skill for leading drivers to cut through the pack and gave opportunities for overtaking when they were held up. Anyone else remember Mansell overtaking Senna in Hungary whilst Senna was taking a backmarker?

Of course having ridiculously slow mobile chicanes like HRT would need to be taken care of.


It will make him or break him. I hope he is successful.


Totally know what you’re saying James.

I’ve raced in a number of endurance races in Class C cars, where the fastest cars scream past you.

You learn pretty quickly there is a way to let them through without slowing down too much. It can ruin your race otherwise.


Same here… my first car race was in a 130hp Toyota MR2, with Corvettes and Porsche GT3’s on the track at the same time. Their lap-times were 15 seconds quicker (1m30 compared to my 1m45)! Certainly teaches you to watch your mirrors like a hawk.


We saw a couple of interviews with Daniel over the weekend here in OZ & there are differences between being a Friday Driver & a full time driver. The one that surprised me was he had never driven on the softer tyre. Qualifying procedure to learn, lots of things,steering wheel controls, pit stops, even the start procedure would be new, warming tyres & brakes etc. Not as easy as jumping in & giving it berries. A good, solid debut IMO.


I know, I did the interviews!


Why is Hispania trying out so many drivers? It all seems rather fickle. How can they get meaningful statistics from which to baseline the evolution of the car when the driver line up is in a perpetual state of flux?

There must be more to it?



Liuzzi isn’t bringing much money (or any?), so all he is able to contribute is good finishes and technical input.

…but good finishes only pay off at the end of the year, whereas a driver with a healthy cheque can pay off debts now.

Short term gain, or long term gain? Seems like HRT is considering the short term to be more important at the moment, and they’ll deal with the long term later.


Why else do that they have those “This could be you” and “Cool spot” stickers on that car ??


$$$$$$$. Plain and simple


Its also worth keeping a few other points in mind when evaluating his performance. The nature of the track was probably the worst it could have been for HRT (alongside Catalunya) this would have contributed to eating his tyres.

Learning to manage the stints and balance of the car, combined with a track that is not so demanding on the cars aero, and nice dry conditions will see him a lot closer to Liuzzi.

Give him 4 or 5 races and I think he will be pretty close to Liuzzi’s race pace. Over a single lap hes probably already got a slight edge.


I’d hate to see Liuzzi replaced at this point, as he’s the only way to measure Ricciardo.

As an aussie fan I was glued to the bottom of the live timing screen for a change.

(Off Topic)

James, Do you know anything about a James Hunt movie called Rush to be made by Ron Howard? I recently read that Chris Hemsworth(Thor) is to play Hunt.

Also James Hunt related,

This is more of a plea,

I can’t think on anyone better or more accessible to ask than yourself James.

Last year, itv aired a Doco called ‘When Playboys Ruled The World’, about James Hunt and Barry Sheene. I thought it might have made it’s way to the Ten Network in Australia by now, especially as Barry was a Ten commentator(and a great one) for years.

Any chance of you having a word to your contacts at itv and Ten?

I can’t tell you how much I, and I’m sure many others would appreciate it.

I have a brother in England but he forgot to record it for me.

p.s. Enjoyed your Bernie interview on RPM last week.When it finished, Craig Baird said “don’t ever ask me to interview him…the guy scares me”.


That proposed movie is a bio-pic on Niki Lauda, whose miraculous after horrific accident got me hooked on F1.


LOL! Thanks for that. Yes Ron Howard was at SIlverstone last week. You never know with films whether they’ll get made or not. Certainly it’s in development, if not yet in production. I think the success of Senna at the box office will give film companies the confidence to try more racing films, but Bernie is still very suspicious (rightly) of them

Alistair Blevins

Bernie is quite right too.

Lest we forget Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Driven’ – which was due to be set in the world of F1 before being switched to Indycar.

Makes me shiver just thinking about it.

Problem is, being in South Africa, we haven’t been afforded the opportunity to see Senna on the big screen.

I have to get my celluloid racing-fix watching endless repeats of ‘Grand Prix’ on TCM. Which is no bad thing.

Alistair Blevins

Good point. Well put. Lest we forget however that Sacha Baron Cohen’s character was from the world of ‘Formule Uuuunnnnnn’.

I’d love to see a comedy take on F1… although it does a pretty good job of that without Hollywood’s intervention sometimes!

Scuderia Missile

Ah yes, but wouldn’t Talledega Nights have been even better if it was F1?

Shake n bake!


OF anyone (obviously)


Hi James

Unless its a certainty that Daniel is driving for a “major” team next year I really fear for his career. This move by Marko has to be said could be very ill timed. I dont necessarily believe that the “practise” he is having in a bad car will be good for him, it may just be a lesson in how to drive a bad car around. If Marko and Redbull believe this is good “training” maybe they need to look at Vettel and Hamilton who although a big fan of Hamilton never had to face the indignity of a low level drive, unlike other greats like Schumacher Senna Alonso and even to a certain extent Vettel in the Torro Rosso. And to those who know Daniel has been in that league in junior formula.

Hopefully we’ll see him in a good car soon. Remember in winter testing he was quickest by a far range and there were some very good people at those tests.


I was hoping he might finish a little closer to Liuzzi, however I think he did a decent job.

Adrian Newey Jnr

I think the biggest thing a driver gains in running a backmarker for a season or two is humility and respect. Something Lewis could do with. I would imagine it has been a humbling experience for people like Trulli, Glock, Kovi, etc who are running in the back half of the grid. This would arguably make them better drivers by learning to make the best with the equipment you have rather than parachuting into a good team. I would argue Kovi would do better in a Maclaren now than when he got his first run.


This reminds me of the onboard footage of Mark Webber in Valencia shaking fist at a “GP2 speed” HRT which was holding him up.

Not sure if Daniel would be impressing his bosses up the pitlane too much in loosing only 8 tenths there…


This reminds me of the onboard footage of Mark Webber in Valencia shaking fist at a “GP2 speed” HRT which was holding him up.

>> You should have heard not so kind comments from the commentators on TV about that back marker.

Backmarker driving was not an “ART” as of Valencia’11, but we have suddenly discovered that its an art form in Silverstone’11….

Scuderia Missile


Give it a break! James is doing a fine job of reporting, breaking stories rather than regurgitating PR releases. By the sounds of your posts though, he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesnt!


I’m surprised that the backmarkers don’t make the leaders go off-line to pass. Is this forbidden, or just seen as poor etiquette?


Penalties are assessed if the leaders take more than three blue-flags to pass a backmarker. So the game becomes how to make sure they pass you quickly without taking up too much time (slightly easing off the throttle before a braking zone, leaving a car-width at turn-in, etc… not pulling way off-line, leaving three car-widths at the apex, etc).

I bet a season in a GT car in endurance racing would make these drivers much more well-rounded, and they would get a LOT of experience with being lapped.


Leaders have that choice, but who has courage to go off racing line and pass a driver and risk losing car in the process.

Recent Indy 500 was good example of Race leader going off racing line to avoid back marker and as a result had race ending in tears thanks to last lap, last corner lap, once he lost the car on debris…


Good luck Daniel, chin up !


James, I reckon the positive is that he got a full GP under his belt and that in itself I would imagine would be a huge releif for Daniel. Had he not of finished it may well of looked like a total disaster, but I think HRT would of been happy with his result.

The conditions Silverstone dished out could not of been easy for anyone little lone an F1 debutant.

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