The Chinese Grand Prix reminded everyone what Formula One can and should be all about. It was full of drama, controversy, and an emphatic victory for Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo.
It didn’t look like his day originally. Stuck in sixth place on a mediocre strategy, he could only watch as race leader, Sebastian Vettel, and Ferrari were outsmarted by Mercedes, with Valterri Bottas jumping them after the pit stops. Following a collision between the two Toro Rosso drivers, the safety car was deployed. Red Bull were the only leading team to bring its drivers in for fresher, faster tyres, and the safety car bunched the field up so there was nothing between them. What happened next was quite extraordinary.
First, Ricciardo overtook his teammate, Max Verstappen, after he ran wide trying to pass Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton was then passed by Ricciardo after a death-defying move at the final hairpin that did not look remotely possible, but he somehow pulled it off. He breezed past Vettel, before mugging Bottas into turn six with a move so touch-and-go it made you wince. Ricciardo then charged on towards the line, and his sixth career victory.
F1 has been dogged with complaints about the lack of overtaking, but Ricciardo showed that fighting your way to glory is still possible. His incredible feel for the brake pedal, perception of other cars and sensational car control make him the best wheel-to-wheel racer in the sport.
It has been seen before of course. When he was promoted to Red Bull in 2014, he outperformed his four-time champion teammate Vettel in the same car and picked up his maiden victories in Canada, Hungary and Belgium. Two years later, he was racing hard against Verstappen for the lead of the Malaysian Grand Prix, and last season he pulled off a do-or-die move against Vettel’s teammate, Kimi Räikkönen, at Monza. That move was very similar to the one he pulled off against Hamilton, and demonstrates Ricciardo’s incredible skill as a racer.
What’s more, Ricciardo is humble, always full of jokes and almost always smiling, making him an utter joy to watch in and out of the car. His self-proclaimed nickname of ‘the honey badger’ is apt – a cute, fluffy creature on the outside, but also a vicious beast that lives for the hunt. This is a hard, brutal racer whose likeable personality is matched only by his ferocious passion for victory.
You also barely ever hear him complain. He had choice words about Verstappen when the two collided at the Hungarian Grand Prix last year, but aside from that he has almost nothing negative to say. This is in stark contrast to his rivals. Hamilton has had an uncomfortable start to 2018, and has made a habit of complaining to his Mercedes pit board whenever he can. Vettel is not much better, his whining about lapped cars becoming something of a trademark. Their teammates barely say anything, and Verstappen can come across as just plain angry. Ricciardo, on the other hand, is upbeat whatever the circumstances.
Ricciardo has picked a good season to be ‘at the top of his game’ as Red Bull boss Christian Horner put it. He is out of contract for 2019, and several teams are reportedly eager for his signature. Ferrari is one option, but Vettel likely won’t want the man who upstaged him four years ago back in the same team. That leaves Mercedes. The Australian has talked before about wanting to be Hamilton’s teammate, and Bottas is out of contract next year too. More shocking would be if Hamilton joined Ferrari, which may happen in the future, and Ricciardo partners with Bottas.
Whatever happens, the truth is he is wasted at Red Bull, who do not look like title contenders. Ricciardo is clearly good enough to win big, and desperately wants to do so. The honey badger is hungry for world championships.
Image: Jake Archibald