Formula 1

Daniel Ricciardo: The next Wizard of Oz?

Ricciardo led the Red Bull charge all weekend in Melbourne (©GettyImages)
Ricciardo led the Red Bull charge all weekend in Melbourne (©GettyImages).

Regardless of events in the stewards room late last Sunday night in Melbourne one of the stars of the opening race weekend Down Under was their very own Daniel Ricciardo.

A young man on whom the spotlight has shone very brightly at now for quite some time since it was announced he would be replacing Mark Webber at Red Bull for this season.

Looking ahead from September last year, the time when his move was confirmed, the scale of the challenge that faced Ricciardo, going to a team with a man in such the vein of form that Sebastian Vettel was as winner of four consecutive world titles, was enormous.

Then when he got there the new V6 turbo era had appeared to send the team, most had gotten sick of winning all the time, towards the back of the grid.

As a Ricciardo fan so as a result I held off writing such an article in the build up to last weekend’s opener in fear that it would look rather stupid if Daniel then went on to have rather a dismal weekend in Melbourne.

Happily after such an impressive first weekend for his new team, Ricciardo has been one of the big topics of discussion among fans and experts alike so now I can likely get away with writing about him and not get the ‘fanboy’ treatment!

Of course as much as I do like him I’m not just going to sit here and say how perfect he is, because I am much wiser than that, but then again I really wasn’t surprised by the level of performance he showed at Albert Park particularly in qualifying.

Saturday afternoon’s have always been Ricciardo’s forte this is strongly backed up by his record against previous team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso.

Over the two years the Australian started ahead of the Frenchman for 30 of the 39 races the pair raced together, indeed the only man who boasts a similar record is his new team-mate Vettel.

The problem most have foreseen with Ricciardo is the ability to convert his domination in qualifying to results in the race.

With an average starting place in 12th during the career before the start of this season – and despite 11 top ten starts – he had only managed thirteen points finishes and a best of seventh twice in China and Italy last year.

Therefore after shocking us all by dragging, what seemed a limping Bull in preseason, into second on the grid in Melbourne, most were wondering if he – and his car – would hold out in the race.

Ricciardo’s answer would be an emphatic yes and while there may be questions over just how legal his RB10 was during the race, the fact he kept what had been presumed to be much faster Mercedes-powered cars quite comfortably behind throughout the 58 laps proves that he can be more than just a single lap specialist.

The pun I used for the title was whether Dan could become the next ‘Wizard of Oz’, of course in plain English that’s me asking whether he can be a future star in the sport.

Coincidently that question comes as other young drivers also made names themselves in Melbourne.

Kevin Magnussen produced one of the great debut drives in F1 history to take what was third on the road for McLaren beating his world champion team-mate Jenson Button.

Valtteri Bottas proved he can be another potential championship contender in the future as he stepped into the role most presumed Felipe Massa would take and lead the much-improved Williams team to sixth.

Then there was the man who moved in at Toro Rosso, Russian Daniil Kvyat who, much like his predecessor, got the most from what had appeared to be an inferior car in testing and scored points on his F1 debut.

I certainly believe Ricciardo can be placed in the same group with those three drivers and comparing him to the other fresh blood coming through there is perhaps one thing he and Kvyat could have as an advantage.

Coming through the Red Bull program has certainly set them up for success, not taking anything away from McLaren’s system with Magnussen, but there’s something more regimental about coming through the Helmut Marko way.

It’s something I have seen in Vettel over his championship winning years, he’s always appeared to have a better mental psyche than the other leading drivers.

Seb has been able to mix coping with the off-track commitments of F1 with being then performing on the track and that is something I think comes from the Red Bull system.

Ricciardo, and Kvyat in time, have that same attitude, he is so approachable off the circuit - and that big grin of his make him one of the most likable drivers on the grid - yet when it comes to racing it’s all business.

It’s maybe true that if he was asked to start 16th and finish third every race he would likely struggle, but when you can start towards the front and race at the front that is the style of driver that wins championships.

His podium finish in Melbourne may have since been taken away, but what Daniel Ricciardo has proven is he can do what Red Bull want from him and once Vettel returns to form he can rely on him to provide strong competition from within the team, can Ricciardo be a future star, you’re damn right he can.


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