#1 – Sebastian Vettel – Germany – 11 Starts, 88 Points, Best Finish: 3rd (Malaysia, Canada), Championship Position: 6th
#3 – Daniel Ricciardo – Australia – 11 Starts, 131 Points, Best Finish: 1st (Canada, Hungary), Championship Position: 3rd
Four years of domination at the front of the F1 field has come to a crashing halt for Red Bull Racing, with the Mercedes team assuming the lead positions in 2014, but the team from Milton Keynes have still managed to win two races.
Daniel Ricciardo has been a revelation since coming into replace his Australian countryman Mark Webber, and has been the victor in both races that Red Bull have won this year, in Canada and Hungary. And he had to earn both victories.
There have been many reasons why Red Bull could be disappointed with their season. The power of the Renault has not been close to that of the Mercedes, and mechanical issues blighted their pre-season. Four-time World Champion Sebastian Vettel’s opening weekend in Australia lasted only three laps before he retired with a power unit issue. Vettel has had the worst luck of the to drivers, and has retired also in Monaco and Austria.
Ricciardo’s debut in Melbourne was fantastic, but would ultimately end up in disappointment. He both qualified and finished second, to the delight of his home fans, but was later disqualified for a fuel-flow indiscretion. He was also unlucky in the following round in Malaysia after being released from the pits in an unsafe manner by his mechanics, which resulted in penalties both during the race that took him out of points contention and for the next race in Bahrain with a grid drop penalty.
The Australian’s race in Bahrain was very impressive, climbing from thirteenth on the grid to finish fourth, right on the tail of Sergio Perez in the Force India. Since then he has not finished outside the top eight, and sits third in the championship. His maiden podium finish (that was not taken away from him) was in Spain, and then followed that up with another in Monaco.
Then came Canada. The Mercedes duo were obviously the fastest cars on track, but when both suffered identical power unit issues, the race began to come to Ricciardo. When Lewis Hamilton retired from the race, Ricciardo was forced to run a number of laps behind Perez before managing to overtake a few laps from the end. Nico Rosberg, down on power was helpless to the Australian’s attack down the long back straight, and Ricciardo took the lead and the victory to the delight of many.
Red Bull’s home race in Austria was quite frankly a nightmare. Vettel was consigned to a race at the back of the field after a mechanical gremlin early on cost him a lap, and ultimately he decided to conserve his power unit and retire. Ricciardo was not on the pace either, and it took a great manoeuvre around the outside of the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg just to salvage an eighth place finish.
Silverstone saw Ricciardo stand on the podium once more, while Vettel was involved in a cracking battle with the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso, which the German came out on top of in fifth. Ricciardo fought back from taking avoiding action at the first corner as Kevin Magnussen and Felipe Massa clashed in Germany to take sixth, with the Australian having the battle with Alonso at Hockenheim. Vettel was able to consolidate his weekend with a fourth place.
Hungary saw the team take their second win of the season with Ricciardo, and once again he had to make overtaking manoeuvres to get to the front. He took his time to first pass Hamilton with a handful of laps to go, and then on the following lap passed Alonso into turn one for the lead. Vettel was in the running for podium before a spin exiting the final corner that consigned him to a seventh place finish.
There is no doubt that Daniel Ricciardo has proved beyond all doubt that he is the real deal, and has taken to the Red Bull drive like a duck to water. No one gave him a hope of matching Sebastian Vettel before the season began, but right now isn’t just matching the current World Champion but beating him 131 points to 88, and two wins to zero. Vettel seems to have taken time to adapt to the 2014 machinery, and has been forced to re-learn how to drive after a number of years with a blown exhaust and diffuser on his Red Bull.
We all know that the Renault power unit is not on par with the Mercedes power unit, but the Red Bull perhaps has the best aerodynamic package in the field. The next two rounds in Spa-Francorchamps and Monza are likely to be engine-driven races, but once we get to tracks like Singapore where aerodynamics are much more important, we could see Red Bull as genuine challengers to Mercedes.