Daniel Ricciardo

Bottas supreme in season opener

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Valtteri Bottas claimed a surprise victory in Australia, with Mercedes showing unexpected post-testing pace, while Max Verstappen edged out the Ferraris to round out the podium.

Despite claiming pole position, Lewis Hamilton made a poor start and fell to P2, before sustaining some damage to his floor that affected his overall pace. After an early pitstop from Ferrari, Hamilton was brought in to cover off a potential under-cut, but with a long second stint ahead of him the potential to challenge for the win quickly faded.

Ferrari seemed to be caught off-guard by Mercedes’ pace, mostly scrapping with each other more than those around them. At the first turn, Leclerc found himself on the outside of Vettel and ran wide, before recovering in the middle phase of the race to be on his teammate’s tail. After asking the team whether he should attack or hold position, he was instructed to fall back. This brings into question Ferrari’s claim that the two are “free to race”, considering team orders were imposed without the championship, or even a race victory, at stake.

Red Bull rounded out the podium with a strong showing from Max Verstappen, delivering Honda’s first F1 podium in 11 years. Pierre Gasly however disappointed during qualifying, being eliminated in Q1, and struggled to make his way through the midfield. Following a pitstop for Toro Rosso driver Daniil Kvyat, it looked like Gasly might jump into the points after emerging ahead of the junior team driver. But a determined Kvyat reclaimed P10 and held off Gasly to claim the final points paying position, justify his reinstatement but causing headaches for Gasly.

Haas showed that their performance during testing was genuine, easily out-pacing their nearest rival Renault. Despite a retirement for Romain Grosjean, Kevin Magnussen delivered a strong haul of points.

Daniel Ricciardo in particular suffered from the home-race curse on debut for Renault. After being forced onto the grass at the start and bouncing over uneven ground, he emerged without a front wing. Pitting for a new nose left him at the rear of the field with almost no hope of points.

Despite the indignation upon it’s introduction, the battle for the Fastest Lap bonus point proved noteworthy. Max Verstappen claimed the Fastest Lap in the late phase of the race as he closed the gap to Hamilton ahead of him, but Bottas snatched the accolade with a blistering lap that denied all challengers any chance.

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner admitted that they were considering pitting Gasly as a sacrifice in the attempt to deny the Mercedes drivers the bonus point. By claiming the Fastest Lap, Gasly would not have been eligible for the point as he didn’t finish within the top 10, but it would have robbed the front-runners. Ferrari also had a chance to pit Leclerc (and if they wanted to also Vettel) to try to claim the extra point, but decided against it, a decision they are reviewing post-race.

In what Bottas called his “best race ever”, he leaves with the odd stat of having the greatest points lead in F1 history over the next driver after round 1. Interestingly, 26 points isn’t the greatest number awarded in a race, that honour going to Lewis Hamilton who claimed all 50 points on offer when double points were available in Abu Dhabi for the final round of the 2014 season.

What's driving the Red Bull-Honda partnership?

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Unless you're a seasoned F1 veteran, you probably associate the name Honda with failure. It will take a while to change that perception, assuming they stay on the scene long enough to turn around the situation.

How did we end up with a Red Bull-Honda pairing? And what are the implications? 

Why did Red Bull agree to Honda power?

Even before Renault rejoined the grid as a works team, their relationship with Red Bull was beginning to fracture. Despite helping Red Bull deliver four consecutive drivers' and constructors' championships between 2010 - 2013, they fell behind the front-runners as we entered the hybrid era.

Red Bull were vocal in their displeasure with Renault's performance at the time. When Renault took the reigns of the ailing Lotus F1 team, Red Bull started looking around for an alternative supplier, fearing that Renault's entry as a team meant their spiteful history would come back to bite them.

Unfortunately, being such a difficult partner, and given their dominance in recent times, Mercedes and Ferrari closed their doors on any potential partnerships.

When Honda returned to F1 as an engine supplier, McLaren negotiated a deal that ensured exclusive supply of power units. If Honda could deliver on their glory days, McLaren would be finally be able to challenge their main rivals, and without fear of one of them gaining engine parity. Sadly, those glory days never arrived. 

With Mercedes, Ferrari and increasingly Renault unwilling to supply engines to Red Bull, and Honda locked into a exclusive agreement with McLaren, the possibility of them being unable to compete was becoming a real possibility. This lead the FIA to adjust the rules to ensure that all teams could access a supply of engines, immunizing teams from toxic relationships with suppliers (even if they had caused the situation themselves).

Now that the McLaren-Honda partnership is in the rear-vision mirror, Red Bull have been able to assess the true potential of Honda through their affiliation with Toro Rosso. This was a lifeline for Honda, and sticking around has blossomed into their Red Bull relationship which will hopeful bare fruit next year.

Can Honda improve?

Naturally, everyone can improve, the more relevant question is "Will Red Bull be competitive next year?" That's more difficult to predict.

Toro Rosso's performance has certainly improved over last season, however part of this is due to their access to current engines as opposed to last year where they used the previous year's power units. 

Red Bull clearly think they won't be able to win championships with an engine from Mercedes or Ferrari, who will always have a performance advantage due to optimal engines modes and harmony between the chassis and power unit. Their hopes are firmly pinned on Honda, the only engine supplier with no invested interest in helping another team beat them.

Add to that how far behind Red Bull the similarly powered McLaren have been this season, and you could conclude that Honda might have been the scapegoat for at least some of the team's performance issues in recent years.

In the short-term, Red Bull will be hoping that Honda can help them keep pace with the front-runners. If not, they'll at least deliver a stop-gap until the new engine regulations are introduced in 2021, which are rumoured to be attracting even more engine suppliers into the mix.

What will it mean for Ricciardo?

Before a Honda powered Red Bull even turns a wheel, Daniel Ricciardo will need to decide his future with the team.

When Mark Webber was in his twilight years with Red Bull, he stayed with them (despite offers to join Ferrari) because they offered the best chance to win. This isn't the case for Ricciardo.

Although it was thought that a seat might be opening up with Raikkonen leaving Ferrari next year, rumours now suggest that will be filled by rising star Charles Leclerc. This could be because Ricciardo has made up his mind about staying at Red Bull, or because Ferrari want to double-down on Vettel as their outright number 1 driver. Remember, Ricciardo unceremoniously put Vettel in the shade when they were teammates, after all.

Which leaves at least one or possibly two seats vacant at Mercedes. This would be Ricciardo's best chance at winning a championship in the short term. He could replace Valtteri Bottas, who has served as an admirable wingman for Hamilton, but doesn't seem up to the job of winning championships. Alternatively, if Lewis Hamilton decides he'd rather focus on his clothes brand/music career/party life then Ricciardo could even lead the team, regardless of who sits in the sister car. 

Although Nico Rosberg showed that beating Hamilton is possible in 2016, Hamilton has come back from it even stronger and with the real threat from Vettel and Ferrari is keeping him honest. 

As exciting as the prospect of Ricciardo moving teams and being a true championship contender is, the most likely outcome will be that he stays at Red Bull for another season to see how things evolve. 

Confirming this are his comments to the press this week:

“It is easy to think the grass is greener,” he said when speaking to the media in France on Thursday. “Maybe it is. I also have it pretty good where I am.

“People do like a change. That’s always appealing. But just to make a change for the sake of making a change, that won’t be enough for me. I need to find some substance behind it if I’m going to jump ship.”

So a change of overalls may not be in Ricciardo's future after all.

Chinese GP: Winners and Losers

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Daniel Ricciardo pulled off an unlikely win in China, keeping his slim championship hopes alive in a race that proved F1 still has plenty to offer in the modern era.

Winners

  • Daniel Ricciardo has a knack for being in the right spot at the right time, and loves nothing more than the chance to “lick the stamp and send it”. Helped by the late safety car (and specifically the timing of it), Ricciardo showed just what a well-rounded driver with a cool head can achieve.
  • Valtteri Bottas looked sullen after the race, mostly because he’d performed on a weekend when his teammate was all at sea, undercut Vettel to wrestle the lead of the grand prix and was licking his lips anticipating a victory in his 100th race, to silence the naysayers. Poor guy did almost everything right.
  • Red Bull’s mechanics not only got Daniel’s car patched up in the nick of time for him to qualify and avoid starting from the back of the grid, but pulled off multiple double-stacked pitstops to put their drivers into a race winning position. Bravo!

Losers

  • Max Verstappen threw away not just a podium finish but a likely race victory. On fresh, Soft tyres and reeling in the front-runners, his failed efforts against Hamilton and particularly Vettel showed that anyone can keep their foot planted, but being the better driver takes more restraint, race-craft and nouse.
  • Pierre Gasly made a meal of his planned overtake of his teammate, with the resulting debris triggering the safety car. Whether there was a miscommunication between the drivers and the team, Gasly put his car in exactly the wrong spot and smothered the residual glory of his Bahrain heroics.
  • Sergio Perez qualified 8th, making it the first time a Force India driver reached Q3 this year. From there he fell down the grid, and a pitstop late in the SC period saw him again tumble down the field where he finished behind his teammate.

Have you say

Tell us your Driver of the Day from the Chinese GP!

Vettel claims Australian victory after Mercedes pitstop bungle

Sebastian Vettel has claimed a upset victory in Melbourne after a strategy blunder from Mercedes have him the lead, and Lewis Hamilton was unable to chase down the Ferrari while managing a slight performance issue. Valtteri Bottas held off a distant Kimi Raikkonen who was a distant 4th. 

The battle for the lead remained close in the opening laps, but by the end it was the gap to the rest of the field was more than 10 seconds. 

The highlight of the race came in the dying laps when Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg both caught an ailing Fernando Alonso at the end of Turn 1 with the cars approaching the corner three abreast. Alonso retired shortly after, but Nico and Esteban continued fighting for the final championship point on offer right the chequered flag.

Daniel Ricciardo’s race was over before it began with the Australian breaking down on his way to the track, beginning the race from the pitlane and eventually starting two laps in arrears of the leaders. Red Bull’s deficit to Mercedes and Ferrari was evident in qualifying, and with the race a total write-off he put on the most crowd-pleasing testing session of all time.

Haas were unable to deliver another fairytale for Romain Grosjean following an admirable qualifying performance. It's clear Haas will be mixing it with the midfield of Force India, Williams and Toro Rosso throughout the season.

 

Daniel Ricciardo hopes "karma" corrects Monaco injustice in Singapore

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Love these pre-race comments from Ricciardo...

“I don’t believe in much, but if there is a little bit of karma or whatever, I’d like to think I will get my Monaco win back somewhere and Singapore is a track which I will look to,” he said.

“I don’t expect to be handed a victory, absolutely not, but I feel if I work very well across that weekend then it should provide me with a chance.”

Daniel is spearheading the driver press conference today (as much as any driver can do that), ahead of his "3rd" home race - meaning it's less than 10 hours by plane from his home town.

That's right, Europe. Australia IS a long way away. 

Source: The Roar