Dan the Man

Dan the Man

RACER Magazine Excerpts

Dan the Man


Only three drivers won F1 races in 2014, and few would have predicted Red Bull Racing debutant Daniel Ricciardo joining Mercedes’ title-chasing duo in that elite fraternity.

His three wins aside, if any grand prix summed up Red Bull Racing debutant Daniel Ricciardo’s 2014, it was the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP. Both RBR cars were relegated to a pit lane start after the team was found to have flexing front wing flaps, and Ricciardo sat behind his teammate Sebastian Vettel as the rest of the field streamed away from the grid.

When the checkered flag flew 55 laps later, the Australian had charged to an impressive fourth place – with Vettel four places and 35sec behind. Sure, traffic played a role and the outgoing Formula 1 World Champion got the worst of it, but the point was that Ricciardo didn’t; it fell into his hands, as it so often has in 2014. The suits at Ferrari must have been wondering if they’d signed the right Red Bull driver…

It really was an astonishing year for Ricciardo. Chosen by Red Bull talent svengali Helmut Marko as the replacement for the departing Mark Webber, he arrived at RBR as the happy-go-lucky kid who’d often shown great qualifying speed in the Toro Rosso development squad, but didn’t really have the hard results. He was expected to play a subordinate role to four-time and defending champ Vettel.

But in the very first race in Melbourne he outperformed Seb, only to lose his hard-earned second place to a disqualification due to a fuel-flow glitch in his new-for-2014 Renault V6 turbo-hybrid (a power unit that had produced miserable grunt and reliability in pre-season testing, thereby only adding to Ricciardo’s feat in taking his short-lived podium).

By the end of the year, he’d finished a best-of-the-non-Mercedes-rest third in points, with 72 more than Vettel, who’d outscored the field in four prior seasons.

On three occasions Ricciardo put himself in position to take advantage when Mercedes stumbled, winning his first GP in Canada, and following it up with victories in Hungary and Belgium. He took nine podiums, including the one lost in Australia – a tally bettered only by Silver Arrows duo Lewis Hamilton (16, including 11 wins) and Nico Rosberg (15, with five wins).

“A lot has happened, definitely!” notes Ricciardo, trademark grin in full effect. “I did have a lot of belief and hope that the year would go well, but looking back, it’s definitely gone way better than I expected.

“With the power unit problems in testing, Seb and I both went to Melbourne with no expectations, quite blind, and let’s see what happens. Australia definitely got the first load of pressure off my back. But Seb had problems in qualifying and the race, so even though it went well for me, I couldn’t quite gauge where I was with him yet. Then in Malaysia he was a little bit stronger than me, so I thought, ‘OK, this is probably how I expected to start the season, a little bit on the back foot compared to him.’

“It was really Bahrain and China, in terms of outdoing him in qualifying and the race by a decent margin, where I started to realize it was looking pretty good for me. And then came the podiums in Spain and Monaco, followed by the Canada win. But, yeah, China’s when I realized I could genuinely fight him for the rest of the season.”

It’s no secret Vettel felt a little lost without the rear grip afforded by blown exhausts, outlawed in 2014. But Ricciardo also proved to be a lot better at managing his tires.

“It’s been a strong point of mine this year, getting the tires to last longer and still having good pace,” he says. “I don’t know if I’ve found an explanation for that yet – I think generally I’m quite sensitive. In terms of if the tires start to slide a bit too much, then I can adapt to that, and maybe back off where I feel I need to. I feel I’ve done that in previous years, too, but it hasn’t worked to the same effect.

“The car itself, I definitely felt at home with it. They’re difficult to drive with the new power units, and I think that’s a factor, too – everyone’s found it more difficult.”

What caught the eye of many people – not least his main on-track rivals – was Ricciardo’s charging style and willingness to take an opportunity in a tough, but fair way.

“That was cool. Results aside, I think that’s really what I wanted to achieve this year – earn the respect of the top guys,” he admits. “I think I’ve established myself now in that group, not only from the results but the way I race, and the respect from them. That’s been nice.”

So where did that hard-charging style come from?

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