Daniel Ricciardo bullishly joked about dedicating a race victory at the Russian Grand Prix to Max Verstappen as a present for the latter’s impending 21st birthday, but acknowledged that Aston Martin Red Bull Racing may struggle to compete at the Sochi Autodrom.
Red Bull come to south-west Russia on the back of a mixed Singapore Grand Prix a fortnight ago that saw Verstappen take a superb second place, whilst Ricciardo struggled in qualifying and could not muster anything more than sixth.
With six races to go, Ricciardo now stands no mathematical chance of winning a maiden Drivers’ World Championship. The Australian stands 155 points behind championship leader Lewis Hamilton and 22 behind his team-mate.
Ricciardo does not believe that Red Bull can realistically compete for a fourth win of the 2018 season, stating that the high-speed sections of the Sochi circuit fail to suit the Milton Keynes-based team’s package. But, the Australian did hold a fragment of optimism, hoping for one of Formula 1‘s various surprises to rear its head.
“It’s not a track I’ve had an amazing result at and it doesn’t really play to our strengths,” said Ricciardo, who joins the Renault Sport Formula 1 Team for 2019.
“But this is racing, so anything can happen.”
Despite this, Ricciardo admitted that the Sochi track – wrapped around the 2014 Winter Olympic Park – has “grown” on him over the course of its first four races. The 29-year-old said that the track’s grip level has improved with each passing year, now a far cry from the “slippery” surface that greeted F1 four years ago.
“Sochi is a pretty unique circuit, it’s very flat and open,” he added.
“In some ways it feels like driving flat out in a car park, but it’s a surprisingly enjoyable lap. Apart from the long straight, there’s a lot going on and it’s a layout that keeps you thinking.
“It’s definitely grown on me since we started racing there,” he continued. “The track surface has also improved over the last few years.
“When we first went there the track was very slippery but the grip levels have improved as the track has rubbered in, making it a more enjoyable circuit to drive.”
Ricciardo finished by saying that he needs to find Verstappen a present in time for his landmark birthday on 30 September – the day of the race. In typical fashion, he suggested that he’ll dedicate the race win to him instead.
“I guess I need to go out and find Max a decent 21st Birthday present,” he laughed.
“Or maybe I will just dedicate my race win to him.”