Daniel Ricciardo Looks Even More Like Real Deal After German Grand Prix Scrap

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistJuly 22, 2014

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 18:   Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing walks into the garage during practice ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 18, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Adam Pretty/Getty Images

From the moment he was confirmed as Mark Webber's replacement at Red Bull, the 2014 Formula One season has always been about learning for Daniel Ricciardo.

For the driver himself, it's been about learning on the job, with the challenge of adapting as quickly as possible to the environment of a team that had won the last four drivers' and constructors' world championships.

As for the rest of us—the spectators, the onlookers, the colleagues and peers—it's been a little more interesting.

Ricciardo's promotion from Toro Rosso was the ultimate test of Red Bull's young-driver program, as well as the depth of quality of Formula One's midfield.

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 18: Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing prepares in the garage during practice ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 18, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
Adam Pretty/Getty Images

After the freak of nature that was Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull's credibility as the training ground of the stars of tomorrow was on the line after a poor success rate that saw the likes of Scott Speed, Vitantonio Liuzzi, Sebastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari come and go without a trace.

And could a driver who had only ever shown glimpses of promise in the rat race for minor points positions really thrive in the finest team on the grid?

The campaign is now past its halfway stage, but all of those concerns were eased long ago.

Ricciardo, with nine races remaining, has scored 24 more points than Vettel and currently sits best of the rest in the drivers' championship behind the dominant Mercedes duo of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

The 24-year-old is the only non-Silver Arrows driver to win a race this season, with three other podium finishes to his name (if we are to discount his disqualification from third place in the Australian Grand Prix).

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 08:  Racewinner Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing is sprayed with champagne by teammate Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Infiniti Red Bull Racing following his victory during the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix
Andrew Hone/Getty Images

Although the statistics of Ricciardo's season are exemplary, the real beauty of the Australian's debut season is, in fact, found in how we seem to learn something new about him as every race weekend passes.

We already knew, of course, that he was an outstanding qualifier—a record of seven top five stars this year supports that theory—but there have occasionally been question marks over his abilities in racing conditions.

After a German Grand Prix, which saw Ricciardo at his punchiest yet, however, any lingering doubts have vanished, with the Australian completing the jigsaw and becoming the full package.

Because he usually qualifies so well, the Red Bull driver rarely has to complete decisive overtaking manoeuvres; but the first corner crash between Kevin Magnussen and Felipe Massa at Hockenheim, which Ricciardo was forced to avoid, dropping him from fifth to 14th, left him with no option but to turn to aggression.

And although most eyes were on Hamilton's charge through the field to finish third, Ricciardo's cleanliness and self-assurance in wheel-to-wheel combat, despite a finishing position of sixth, was arguably more impressive than the Mercedes driver's exploits.

The calm way in which he made his way through the pack, picking cars off one by one while having the presence of mind to defend from Hamilton, in the laps following the early safety-car period portrayed a driver with strong spacial awareness and good race management.

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 19:  Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing drives during final practice ahead of the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 19, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Ricciardo's decision to hang his Red Bull on the outside of the Turn 6 hairpin on Lap 13, taking the widest line possible into the corner, prevented a crash between Hamilton and the sandwiched Kimi Raikkonen, ending two recovery drives before they had begun.

The Red Bull driver's pass on Jenson Button at Turn 8 on the 57th lap, meanwhile, was arguably the move of the race.

Ricciardo picked up the McLaren's slipstream on the exit of the hairpin before moving to the right and contemplating a move down the inside of the sweeping Turn 7; however, thinking better of it, he tucked under the gearbox of Button.

Approaching the braking zone, Ricciardo looked down the outside of Button, forcing the 34-year-old to close the gap, with the Australian completing a dummy that Nigel Mansell would have been proud of by switching to the opposite side and taking the corner with little resistance.

Despite the evident expertise in his pass on Button, it was Ricciardo's late three-lap duel with Fernando Alonso that was surely the most rewarding experience of his weekend.

The Australian frustrated and harried the two-time world champion, whose tyres were nine laps fresher, according to the FIA's pit stop summary information.

Ricciardo, on two of those three laps, even possessed the audacity to try the same trick he had perfected on Button, succeeding on the first occasion before being muscled out of the way by the wily Alonso on the exit of Turn 8 the second time.

Alonso, widely considered the most complete driver on the grid, later told Ben Anderson and Jonathan Noble of Autosport.com:

I think he is doing unbelievable.

He's driving fantastically, and in Germany he was battling very smart, always taking my slipstream after I passed him, and braking very late, attacking very late, and [he] never missed the corner.

He was very, very smart, [with] respect also with the rules. It was a great fight.

Formula One has developed a worrying habit of christening young drivers as "future world champions" in recent years.

Take a look at the current pool of competitors: Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas, Jules Bianchi, Romain Grosjean, Daniil Kvyat and Magnussen have all been placed under that damaging umbrella at various points over the last two seasons alone.

There are more future world champions than years in the hyperbolic world of Formula One, but the man who stands the best chance of joining the immortals in the coming years is the one who commands the least fuss.

The development of Ricciardo before our very eyes into not only a grand prix winner but a consistent, leading driver has been one of the most joyous storylines of the season. 

Proving that nice guys can finish first, too, the Perth-born driver has grown into a strong, dependable performer in all situations and all conditions.

The German Grand Prix, with that in mind, was arguably more important than his breakthrough win in Canada.

It was not just a race where he further enhanced his repertoire—it was where he completed it.