Is Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas the Hottest Young Talent in F1 Right Now?

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Is Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas the Hottest Young Talent in F1 Right Now?
Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Associated Press

Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas?

It's a question on the minds of many fans as they wonder who will be the next Formula One superstar.

Red Bull's Ricciardo has taken the motorsport world by storm in 2014, winning three races and casting major doubt over the presumed brilliance of his team-mate, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel.

Bottas, driving for Williams in only his second season at the highest level, has had less spectacular but no less impressive success.

Born a few months apart in 1989, the two men are likely to spend the best part of the next decade fighting at the front in F1. But which is the brighter star right now?

Don Goldman/Associated Press

 

The Early Years

Ricciardo and Bottas first raced together in F1 last season, but their history goes back much further. Their earliest meeting was at the fourth tier of single-seater competition, the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup, in 2008.

Each had a little experience of the formula. Bottas raced in the Northern European Cup (NEC) the previous year, while Ricciardo competed in the Italian series. The Finn had a more successful record, but both had shown flashes of what was to come.

The series was contested over 14 rounds at some of Europe's most famous circuits, and Ricciardo and Bottas quickly established themselves as two of the front-runners.

Here they are battling it out at Silverstone in the fourth round, miles ahead of anyone else, in somewhat prophetic liveries.

The championship was decided in the final race of the season. Ricciardo won, but Bottas finished fourth to secure the title by just three points.

In the same year, Bottas dominated the NEC and Ricciardo won the Western European equivalent.

Fans of the lower formulae looked set for a treat with the two slugging it out as they rose through the ranksbut sadly, their careers diverged.

With the exception of two one-off invitational events2009's Macau Grand Prix and the Masters of Formula Three in the same yearthey never met on the junior circuit again.

Bottas took the Formula Three Euroseries route, while Ricciardo went for the British championship. The Australian then moved to Formula Renault 3.5, the Finn to GP3.

It would be 2013 before battle was joined once more.

 

Midfielders

Rob Griffith/Associated Press
Bottas (middle row, far left) and Ricciardo (back row, second right).

Bottas made his debut in the 2013 Australian Grand Prix, driving the disappointing Williams FW35. Ricciardo, with Red Bull backing, had been around since the middle of 2011first with HRT, then with Toro Rosso.

He was in his second full season, equipped with the solidly midfield Toro Rosso STR8.

Ricciardo had already established himself as something of a qualifying specialist, and he again did the business on Saturdays. He ended the year having out-qualified team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne 15 times from 19 attempts.

His race pace looked less impressive. Despite Ricciardo's huge qualifying advantage, Vergne usually matched himand sometimes beat himon Sundays. In races where both finished, Ricciardo was ahead six times; Vergne took the honours on five.

Bottas was up against Pastor Maldonado, a race winner in 2012. Though the Venezuelanlike Ricciardo was considered an excellent qualifier, Bottas proved even better. It was 12-7 to the Finn at the end of the year.

But, also like Ricciardo, Bottas didn't always do his best work in the races. Maldonado finished ahead nine times, the Finn only five.

Ricciardo was promoted to the main Red Bull squad for 2014, paired with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel. Bottas would remain at Williams, pitted against the hugely experienced Felipe Massa.

This time, both would have decent cars.

 

Racing at the Front

Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Ricciardo and Bottas in Spain.

Twelve races into the 2014 season, Ricciardo has, against all expectation, established himself as the de facto team leader at Red Bull. The RB10 doesn't have the performance to win races purely on merit, but Ricciardo has made the most of his opportunities.

Every time the dominant Mercedes W05s have encountered problems, Ricciardo has picked up the pieces. Victories in Canada, Hungary and Belgium have propelled him to third in the drivers' standings, a massive 58 points clear of defending champion Vettel.

He hasn't totally dominated the GermanVettel has had a lot of issues with reliability while Ricciardo has had a largely bulletproof car.

But the Australian has also lost points due to car or team issues18 in Australia and 12 in Malaysiaand for each of his wins he has out-performed Vettel in clean, straight fights.

He has also out-qualified the former one-lap king seven times.

Bottas started the year in mixed form. He was very fast in Australia, but ruined his own race by tagging a wall and giving himself a puncture. A probable second became a hard-fought fifth.

Clive Mason/Getty Images
Bottas in Australia.

He wasn't overly impressive in the next few rounds, but began to find his feet around the time of the Spanish Grand Prix. He has since been one of the drivers of the year.

Bottas fought the two Mercedes' in Austria on his way to a first F1 podium, and followed it up with an incredible drive from 14th on the grid to finish second at Silverstone.

A third consecutive podium, in Germany, cemented his place as one of the true rising stars of the sport. His fourth podium arrived after another first-class display at Spa.

With just 40 points to Bottas' 110, Massa has been well and truly left in the shade. Bottas has qualified ahead eight times from 12 attempts and only finished behind Massa three times.

Bottas' figures are inflated slightly by his team-mate's misfortunesMassa has gone out on the first lap on three occasionsbut the Finn has, like Ricciardo, established himself as the team's top dog.

 

Head-to-Head

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

It's difficult to compare the two, for the simple reason they're not in the same carone will invariably be better than the other depending on the circuit layout.

Ricciardo has won three races. Two of themHungary and Belgiumcame because the RB10 was the best of the rest behind the Mercedes W05s when they messed up.

At the third, Canada, it was fairly equal between Red Bull and Williams, but the Bulls got the rub of the green. 

Bottas' car hasn't been quite as good. The FW36 was the best of the rest on only three occasionsin Austria, Britain and Germany.

Each time, Bottas was right there waiting to take advantage. Had Mercedes cracked at those races, he'd have been celebrating well-deserved race wins of his own.

Lars Baron/Getty Images
Ricciardo lines up Hamilton and Alonso in Hungary.

At least, we think he would have been.

It's that tiny speck of uncertainty which gives us a winner. Ricciardo wasn't handed his wins on a platehe fought for every one of them, seized each half-chance with both hands and created his own opportunities.

In Canada the decisive moment was a brilliant in-lap to jump team-mate Vettel, despite stopping one lap later.

In Hungary he produced two magnificent late overtakes on two of the best drivers on the grid.

And in Belgium he utterly annihilated team-mate Vettel before intelligently managing his tyres, ensuring he had a safe gap to the rapidly closing Nico Rosberg all the way to the chequered flag.

Could Bottas have done the same, given the same opportunities?

Probably. He's an awesome talent and has, perhaps, a higher ceiling than Ricciardo. It's easy to forget his F1 career is only 31 races old.

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But we don't know for sure, and won't until he finds himself in a race-winning position.

That uncertainty no longer exists with Ricciardo. He's a proven race winner and, just as importantly, a proven world-champion-beater.

His star shines clear and bright.

Bottas' remains cloaked in dust, its true brilliance yet to be fully established.

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