Daniel Ricciardo’s win at the Canadian Grand Prix is proof the 2014 title race is still open to Red Bull.
That is the claim of team boss Christian Horner though the 40-year-old admits actually being a part of the championship hunt will be a very difficult task.
However, as Canada showed, Mercedes, who have been in a class of their own throughout this year, are still vulnerable to mechanical problems.
Both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were struck by a loss of their ERS power boost, as the system overheated, and the problem caused Hamilton to retire for the second time this season with rear brake failure as the team looked for a solution.
The Renault-powered Red Bull has been the nearest challenger to the dominant Mercedes for much of the year and if it wasn’t for his exclusion from the Australian Grand Prix, Montreal winner Ricciardo would be in a commanding third in the drivers’ standings only 20 points behind Hamilton despite the Briton’s four race wins.
The Achilles heel for the team remains their Renault power unit and on the straights of Canada, the lack of top speed was evident as both Ricciardo and Vettel struggled to attack the Mercedes powered Williams and Force India’s around them – even with DRS.
In reflection, Horner was adamant that despite their problems, results like the one in Montreal prove they can still be a factor.
“We’ve taken 40 points out of [the Canadian Grand Prix], so we’ve taken 22 points out of them,” Horner was quoted by crash.net. “It’s the first time we’ve outscored them all year, it’s the first time we’ve beaten a Mercedes this year and we’ve managed to get a victory.
“We’re realists, we know we’ve got a massive challenge ahead of us, but there’s still a long way to go in this championship. We’re not even at the halfway point, we just take things one race at a time. We try to get the best out of each race and then the points tend to take care of themselves.”
For Ricciardo the win in Canada was the peak of what has been one of the most remarkable stories of the season so far as the smiling Australian continues to dominate his four-time champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
If any doubts still lingered over whether the 24-year-old was the right man to replace the now Porsche WEC driver Mark Webber, his pass on Sergio Perez and overhaul of the ailing Mercedes of Rosberg finally put those thoughts to bed.
As for Horner, a man who himself has expressed surprise at how well Ricciardo has done since making the move up from Toro Rosso, he said the success the man from Perth has had highlights the opportunity given to young drivers by Red Bull’s support program.
“It’s fantastic,” he said.
“Daniel was a young guy who came over from Australia with very little prospect of furthering his career had it not been for Red Bull and Dietrich Mateschitz’s support and backing through the junior formulae, through the junior team, in to Toro Rosso and then on to Red Bull Racing.
“There were questions asked when we chose him as our driver alongside Sebastian and I think he’s demonstrated beyond all doubt that he fully deserves that position.”
Indeed now some are predicting Ricciardo could become Australia’s first world champion since Alan Jones in 1980, one such man is former Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger who oversaw the rise of Sebastian Vettel at Toro Rosso in 2007-08.
“He hasn’t made any mistakes this season,” the Austrian told AAP.
“This is a new star. If the car were to fit right, he could become world champion.”
For Ricciardo and Red Bull the elation of Canada will head into the team’s first home race next weekend as the formerly named A-1 Ring hosts the Austrian Grand Prix for the first time since 2003 at the refurbished Red Bull Ring.
A circuit that shares a similar characteristic to Canada because of its many straights, any kind of result for Daniel ahead of a Mercedes there, particularly with double points still waiting in Abu Dhabi, and the predictions of a two-way fight for the title between the Silver Arrows may have been a little premature.
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