Making the case for Daniel Ricciardo as the F1 driver of 2016 so far
Sky F1's Mark Hughes on the consolations to be found in the Red Bull driver's Monaco anger and why he can't be underestimated
Last Updated: 08/11/19 11:56am
While Lewis Hamilton often stands accused of projecting an attitude, consciously acting out the mood he'd like the world to know he is in, good or bad, there was no play-acting from Daniel Ricciardo in the aftermath of the Monaco Grand Prix his Red Bull team had lost him on Sunday.
Even the infamous grin - which normally appears even when he's making critical comments - was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he stood on the podium only as an obligation, answered Martin Brundle's questions politely but without sugar-coating, then reverted then to a state of total obliviousness to all that was going on around him.
Even Hamilton's compliments - "one of the best drivers I have ever raced against," echoing the similar comments a couple of years ago from Fernando Alonso - meant nothing. He stood isolated in a world of pain in full public glare. For the second consecutive grand prix, Red Bull's actions had cost him a grand prix victory - and it was much tougher to take second time around.
But if there is any consolation, it is that his devastating performance in both qualifying and race together with the subsequent loss of that race (to a communication mix up between the Red Bull pit wall and the garage) will serve to remind the world that he had been in position to win Barcelona too.
Team-mate Max Verstappen's achievement in winning that race on his debut with the team was remarkable - and dwarfed all other stories. If Ricciardo had won Monaco - or had he simply not performed to the supremely high level he did, it would not have shone a light on the fact that on merit he - and not Verstappen - would have won at Barcelona but for a strategy call the team made against his wishes. This way, because he was able to say things like, "I took Barcelona on the chin… but two in a row is hard to take," it cements the two lost opportunities together memorably.
But even if justice had been done and he had won in both Spain and Monaco, his standing - the respect and recognition - could not be any higher than it is at the moment. Is there currently anyone else performing to this level? It's very difficult to make a case for anyone other than Ricciardo to have been the best driver of the year so far.
Sure, Hamilton has produced his usual super-highs, but has also been at least partly responsible for some of those debilitating first lap hits. Rosberg has been superbly thorough, but then delivered an insipid performance in the wet early stages on Sunday. Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Verstappen… all have been magnificent on occasion this year.
But stringing it together like Ricciardo and producing the sort of virtuoso performance we saw from him throughout the Monaco weekend?
What is his weakness? Those who were looking for it a few years ago were unconvinced of his racecraft. But if he ever lacked it, he most certainly doesn't now, as the veteran of several high-octane spectacular passes, as someone who can marshal the tyres yet maintain relentless speed. There were those who questioned if he wanted it enough, who suggested that the ever-present smile told of a lack of ultimate desire. It was rubbish then - and is demonstrably so now. Anyone witnessing his desolation post-race on Sunday can have no doubt about that.
Ricciardo doesn't do platitudes, which is one of the reason he's one of the most popular drivers in F1 despite driving for perhaps the most unpopular team. Can he now, after being let down twice and not choosing to blandly paper it over with a 'win together, lost together' platitude maintain that crucial close relationship with the team, the thing that keeps them automatically onside?
It's a tricky tightrope to walk, but he can do everything else required, so why not that?
With the updated Renault in the back of the Red Bull, it's taken as a given it will be similarly Mercedes-challenging at places like Hungary and Singapore. But there's an assumption that around the high speed tracks the Mercedes will still dominate.
Montreal, though featuring super-long straights and repeated acceleration zones and therefore heavily rewarding sheer power, also has only slow corners - and that's where the Red Bull RB12 scores over every other car. Monaco represented the first time in the hybrid formula (apart from the aberration of Singapore last year) that Mercedes was out-performed on merit. It may not be the last.
Hopefully Ricciardo's season will not be defined by the two lost races, but by the victories that are to come.