Is Daniel Ricciardo the man to replace Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing? It would seem to make sense on paper. One Australian for another and a driver who would allow Sebastian Vettel a smooth ride as the team’s undoubted No. 1.
But is Ricciardo really good enough to make the step up from sister team Toro Rosso and into arguably the fastest car on the grid? Let’s evaluate his season so far.
For every young driver, competing in their home race is a very special occasion, but it wasn’t exactly a debut to remember for the boy from Perth. Outqualified by teammate Jean-Eric Vergne, Ricciardo’s race ended on Lap 39 with an exhaust-related problem after he had struggled for grip in the early stages. “Not the ending I wanted for the first Grand Prix of the season, especially here in my home race," lamented Ricciardo in his team’s post-race evaluation on the Red Bull website.
A better qualifying in Malaysia saw the Aussie a respectable 12th on the grid, but Ricciardo suffered a bad start, aquaplaning off the circuit at Turn 3 before clattering across the gravel and damaging his floor. The exhaust problem of Australia again reared its ugly head with the chequered flag in sight only five laps from the end.
China was better. Much better. It should have been the springboard for the rest of Ricciardo’s season.
A superb qualifying effort saw him seventh on the grid and confirmed what many already knew. The Aussie had natural raw pace. And despite having to change his nose cone after an early collision with Felipe Massa, Ricciardo came home in seventh for his first points of the year.
He said it could have been even better. Via formula1.com:
I am really pleased to score my first points of the season and to confirm the qualifying performance. After yesterday afternoon I kept calm, knowing the real work would begin today. The last time I qualified this well was sixth in Bahrain last year and then I failed to score, so today, I really wanted to show people what I could do, so it's great for me to have had a great race but it's especially good for the team, who have worked so hard for this. Of course, the early pit stop to change the nose affected our plans and towards the end, Massa's Ferrari was looking bigger and bigger ahead of me! So yes, maybe I could have done even better, but for now I'll settle for this seventh place.
Ricciardo again bettered his teammate in qualifying for both Bahrain and Spain, the latter seeing the Aussie collecting the remaining points finish after another assured drive. But whilst Vergne finished seventh in Monaco, Ricciardo’s race ended when Romain Grosjean drove into the back of him approaching the Nouvelle Chicane, ending his race.
Quoted on his team’s press release afterward, Ricciardo clearly laid the blame at Grosjean’s door.
I could see that Grosjean had got a good run out of the tunnel and that he was close, so I defended my line and the next thing I knew he was over the back of me. I haven't seen it on a TV yet, but at the moment I believe it was a misjudgement on his part and a costly one that was quite dangerous, even if we are both okay.
A two-place grid penalty for exiting the pit lane from the fast lane saw Ricciardo 11th in Canada, but after a decent start he fell back to 15th, blaming excessive oversteer.
A one-lap wonder
Ricciardo was back to his qualifying best in Britain, outqualifying both Ferraris and Lotuses to line up fifth before finishing eighth in the race. And despite the apparent good result, Ricciardo saw it as an opportunity missed when quoted on the Toro Rosso site afterward.
Eighth is a good result, but I see it as a missed opportunity to score more points, because today we were quicker than the Ferraris so to finish behind them, particularly Massa who had a tyre problem, is a bit disappointing.
Another stellar qualifying saw Ricciardo sixth on the grid in Germany, but he struggled for pace on the prime tyre, slipping back through the field to 12th by the finish. And it was a similar story in Hungary. Eighth on the grid and 13th by the end as he struggled to get the best out of the tyres in the Budapest heat.
So what to read into all of that? It’s clear Ricciardo is a very quick driver over a single lap, as his qualifying performances in 2013 have shown. But combination of ill fortune and lack of race pace has meant he has been unable to convert his strong Saturday showings into more points for the team.
I expect him to have the better of Vergne by the season’s end, but it still won’t be enough to get him that coveted Red Bull seat. Not next year anyway.
Daniel’s midseason marks:
Race craft: 6/10
Summary: Clearly a very quick boy in an average chassis but needs to convert that promise into points.