Formula 1

Daniel Ricciardo is the star of F1's new generation

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Ricciardo is showing there is plenty of steel behind the smile (©GettyImages)
Ricciardo is showing there is plenty of steel behind the smile (©GettyImages).

Behind the dominance of Mercedes, Daniel Ricciardo's arrival at the top of F1 has been one of the stories of the year.

The Australian's appointment as replacement for Mark Webber was met with scepticism by some, particularly as he was chosen over the likes of 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen.

But during his first year with the four-time defending constructors' champions, Ricciardo has vindicated Dr Helmut Marko's trust in the young driver program beating team-mate Sebastian Vettel regularly and is the only non-Mercedes driver to win races in 2014.

Arriving on the scene

It was always known that Ricciardo was a great qualifier, his record over former Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne of 30-8 over the two years they were together was proof of that, but he was always known as a driver who would then slip back in the races.

Then comes the persona the man from Perth has, his smile has become a trademark yet even he himself has admitted his thought that Red Bull had to deal with the possibility that he was too nice, too relaxed to drive for a top team.

So when, during the first few races after his move to Red Bull, he was beating Sebastian Vettel not only in qualifying but in the race as well that caused a stir.

Demon overtaker

It wasn't just starting ahead of Vettel after qualifying that caught the eye, his overtakes on the four-time world champion in Malaysia, China and Bahrain begun to lay down a marker and the smiley Aussie was beginning to show a ruthless streak.

In the past few races his wheel-to-wheel battles have earned him even greater respect from fans and other lead drivers alike. In Canada he produced a stunning move on Sergio Perez around the outside at turn one before making his way past Nico Rosberg en route to his first F1 win.

Then in Germany, Ricciardo had a great battle with Fernando Alonso and, despite having less power and worn tyres, held the Spaniard at bay for a few laps before the so-called 'best driver on the grid' had to use all his skills to find a way past.

And on Sunday in Budapest, the 25-year-old again proved he can mix it with the best producing another brave move on Lewis Hamilton around the outside on turn two before diving down the inside of Fernando Alonso at turn one as he claimed his second win of the year.

High praise

After their battle in Germany, Fernando Alonso described Ricciardo's performance as "unbelievable" and after Budapest he was again equally impressed by the Aussie.

"I think he's leading the champion team - that says it all," the Ferrari driver was quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald. "He's doing a fantastic job this year and now he has a few bottles (of champagne).

"Congratulations to him for today, for the whole championship - it's going to be an interesting fight in the next couple of years."

Lewis Hamilton was also full of praise, saying Ricciardo is quickly establishing himself as one of the best drivers on he grid.

"(He's) not only one of the nicest guys in the paddock but also one of the best drivers here, for sure," the Briton said.

"He's been driving fantastically well from the beginning of the year.

"So, it's not only now, it's through the whole year he's shown his capability and is going from strength to strength."

The future is now

The emergence of Daniel Ricciardo at the top of F1 means he is another name the sport can add to the list of potential future champions.

Nico Hulkenberg, Romain Grosjean, Sergio Perez, Jules Bianchi and Daniil Kvyat are all drivers most believe could reach the summit and, much like the emergence of fresh blood in the early 2000's, this new generation of drivers mean the sport can look forward to many years of the best drivers producing high-speed excitement for years to come.

For Ricciardo, being the first driver to make it to a top team and win races as soon as he has, puts him in the best place when the Alonso's, Vettel's, Hamilton's and Raikkonen's of now move on and those drivers step up.

Of course the key for the Australian is to keep improving because any time a driver stands still is quickly overcome but that is where the new generation now the edge because the sky maybe the limit but the limit of that sky is endless.

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Formula 1
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