Daniel Ricciardo: Why first points for Renault showed F1 2019 progress
Three races into Ricciardo's new career in yellow, Sky F1 expert Mark Hughes assesses where the Aussie is at with his new car...
Last Updated: 23/04/19 4:40pm
Daniel Ricciardo's seventh place in China - best of the rest behind the top three teams - represented progress following his initial difficulties adapting to the RS19 after years at Red Bull.
Particularly so, given that he had managed to narrowly out-qualify team-mate Nico Hulkenberg in a straight contest for the first time.
In the lead up to the China weekend, Ricciardo had been giving some insight into his initial difficulties with the car. The biggest problem was how it would not allow him to brake as aggressively as he is used to on the approach to corners.
A secondary problem was that its behaviour was more disrupted by driving it heavily over kerbs, requiring him to adapt his lines in some cases.
Both traits are, of course, consistent with a lower level of downforce. After years at Red Bull his muscle memory is attuned to being able to carry enormous entry speed and even combining the initial cornering phase with braking, something which the Pirelli tyres in general are intolerant of but which the Red Bull has always been able to ameliorate.
Just watching this year's Red Bull RB15 into, for example, the Clark Chicane at Melbourne it is visually obvious that Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly can approach the corner in an entirely different way to any other car, with super-late braking that is then progressively reduced as the cornering load builds up. The other cars - even the Mercedes and Ferrari - are forced to brake in a more conventional straight line, with a more delineated braking and cornering phase.
Greater downforce than their rivals in the low-speed ranges has long characterised Red Bull cars, even if they are then sometimes down in ultimate top-end downforce. It is in the low-speed ranges and braking zones where driving style differences can be accommodated and so the Red Bull has allowed Ricciardo to develop a style that doesn't necessarily work on more conventional cars. Going in the other direction, Gasly doesn't yet seem to have fully adapted to a Red Bull after a season in a more conventional car.
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But the one traditional strength of Ricciardo's that was evidently still very much intact at Shanghai was his magical way of making the tyre last in marginal conditions. Not only did he achieve his result using a one-stop strategy on a day when most were forced to migrate to a two-stop, he did it despite being obliged to start on the soft tyre (by courtesy of having made Q3).
He was being pressured from behind almost throughout by the one-stopping Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen, but they each had the luxury of being able to start on the more durable medium tyre.
As the pit stop window opened for Ricciardo, he had to ensure he was more than a couple of seconds clear of Perez but without unduly stressing his more delicate tyres. Perez had been tracking him to within about 1.5s - which would comfortably have been enough for the Racing Point (and maybe the closely-following Raikkonen) to get ahead of the Renault around the stops.
But Ricciardo had judged his pace perfectly and was able to just ease out the 2s required. As Perez noted: "Every time I got close to him, he found the pace to pull away."
Pitting before his two pursuers because of his worn-out soft tyres, he was then faced with a 38-lap second stint on the hards to the end. Against his fresher-tyred opponents, he managed to stay ahead to achieve the best result the car was capable of on the day.
The Renault is not currently the fastest car in 'Class B' but the team's savvy pit lane operations and in this case Ricciardo's beautiful reading of the race conjured the best-in-class result.
The coming races will reveal if he has fully adapted to the traits of the car over a lap of qualifying or whether his 0.004s advantage over Hulkenberg in China was the beginning of him showing his true potential.
Thereafter, it's going to be all about development of the car.
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