The finale of last Sunday’s Canadian Grand Prix was without doubt one of the most dramatic race finishes F1 has witnessed in some time, with a five-car chase to the flag punctuated by bold overtaking moves, failing components, fading brakes and spectacular smashes.
The aftermath of the race saw all of those elements pulled apart in detail, with the whys and wherefores of the accident involving Sergio Perez and Felipe Massa analysed over and over again and the reasons behind Mercedes’ disintegrating race and the concomitant psychological effect Rosberg’s triumph might have on Lewis Hamilton were examined in full. In all of that forensic probing, Daniel Ricciardo’s landmark win has been somewhat overshadowed.
The fact is that in claiming victory Ricciardo not only notched up his maiden grand prix win – a major milestone for any racer – but became just the sixth new grand prix winner in F1 since Lewis Hamilton took his first victory at the same venue seven years ago (the others being Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastian Vettel in 2008, Mark Webber in 2009, and Nico Rosberg and Pastor Maldonado in 2012).
Indeed, since 2009, just nine drivers have won the 101 grands prix contested, with just four racers, Sebastian Vettel (38), Lewis Hamilton (17), Jenson Button (14) and Fernando Alonso (11) winning 80 of those races. To enter that exclusive club is an achievement indeed for Ricciardo.
Naturally some will say that the Australian was simply in the right place at the right time and that Mercedes’ woes effectively handed it to the next in line in the next best car. That, however, would be disingenuous, as Ricciardo first had to put himself in the position of being next in line and than had to convert the opportunity, first by making his way past Sergio Perez and then Rosberg, both of which he achieved with aplomb. As Mark Webber told the press after watching his countryman’s performance, it was simply more evidence of how well Ricciardo has been performing since the start of the season.
“For Daniel to get his first win was incredible for him,” said Webber. “He hasn’t put a wheel wrong all year so far. There’s been testing regulations, wet qualifyings, and all sorts of stuff that’s been thrown at him. But for him to notch up his first win is a big step for him.”
Adrian Newey, too, conceded that Ricciardo’s performances so far have fully justified the decision to install him as Vettel’s team-mate.“Daniel has been massively impressive this year,” he said. “He has certainly exceeded all our expectations.
“What I find amazing about him is how calm he is in the car. When he’s on the radio it’s like he’s sitting down with a cup of tea and driving one-handed. It’s quite remarkable. He’s very calm, collected, takes everything in his stride, and he’s really enjoying his job.”
It’s no surprise that Newey’s praise of Ricciardo’s mental capacity and nerve is almost exactly the same validation he has frequently offered over the years to explain Vettel’s qualities as a four-time champion.
Team Principal Christian Horner echoed the praise saying that the 24-year-old has “driven faultlessly this year”.
“The way Daniel has driven this season, the way he has made his passing moves, he has driven faultlessly,” he said. “He has grabbed his opportunity, and I am delighted for him.
“It is also a fantastic testament to the junior programme that we are discovering young driver talent on merit, like Sebastian and Daniel,” he added. “All credit to Red Bull and the job Helmut [Marko] has done in identifying these young drivers and giving them a chance.”
Ricciardo was not simply impressive in the final laps of the race. Passing his team-mate in the second stops was also a key moment, delivered with style. It was certainly aided by a poor run through pit stop window from Vettel and by traffic but Ricciardo capitalised superbly.
“Valtteri pitted to attempt the undercut,” said Ricciardo of the two-stoppers’ second visit to pit lane. “I would have responded on the next lap but Seb was in the lead car and so took that option and I came in one lap later. I think I had just had a very clean in-lap and got away well after the guys gave me a phenomenal stop. I think Seb must have come out in traffic and I was able to get it done.”
The times bear out the argument. Vettel pitted on lap 36 of the race. On Vettel’s in-lap Ricciardo set a time of 1:19.412, almost a second quicker than Vettel’s previous tour. Ricciardo’s in-lap was then almost a second quicker than his team-mate’s. Ricciardo also spent just under a tenth of a second less in pit lane than his team-mate. Then, Vettel’s time on lap 37 was a 1:22.043, allowing Ricciardo to emerge well ahead. Even though Ricciardo’s time on lap 38 was a 1:21.285 compared with Vettel’s 1:19.437, The Australian was able to stay ahead and over the next seven laps he built a gap of 1.5s to the champion. It was an impressive cameo in an outstanding race for the Red Bull new boy.
As for the Australian himself, he admitted that for him the most pleasing aspect was the finish – getting a chance at victory and not letting it slip.
“[That’s] what I’m most pleased about really,” he told redbull.com. “We had an opportunity and we were able to take it. Mercedes have been so strong this year but they had an off day. Towards the end, I had glimpses of Rosberg whenever Pérez moved off line. I knew he was the leader, I knew there were only a few laps to go and… it was there for us. I’m incredibly pleased we took the most out of it. Once we got around Pérez, I knew we were going to win. I was simply convinced of it.’
The trick is now for Ricciardo to repeat the feat, something that will surely be difficult in a season when Mercedes off-days have to this point been few and far between. The likable Aussie, though, is hungry for more.
“At the end of the day it comes down to confidence,” he said. “I think I controlled the adrenaline pretty well today but the next time I’m in this position – hopefully soon – it should be easier to push that down. Unfortunately winning doesn’t really scratch the itch: it just makes you want more and more. I’m going to become greedy to do this again.”
And there are few now who would doubt his ability to do just that and thus stay at F1’s top table.