Don’t let that broad, brilliant smile fool you. Yes, Daniel Ricciardo is a warm, friendly, relaxed and happy guy. He smiles a lot. A lot. He says that it is easier than frowning. He even manages to smile when things are going bad.
But don’t mistake this likable Australian as not being serious about his job. He is 100 per cent dedicated. When things do go wrong, he is as focused as any other Formula 1 driver on the grid to put them right. When things go really right – like they did in Montreal this year when he scored his first F1 victory – his smile is absolutely dazzling.
Ricciardo – his family immigrated to Australia from Italy and changed the pronunciation of their name to Rick-card-o – replaced fellow Australian Mark Webber as Sebastian Vettel’s teammate at Red Bull this year. Ricciardo, who had two-and-a-half years Formula 1 experience with the smaller HRT and Toro Rosso teams, was on the pace from the start of this season.
Every Formula 1 driver on the grid is absolutely convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that, if he was given a competitive car he could win races. Furthermore, there are over 100 drivers in categories like GP2 and GP3 and the Renault World Series, the final stepping stones to Formula 1, who are all convinced that they deserve to be in Formula 1 tomorrow and would win if they had a good car.
But thinking and doing are completely different things. Ricciardo knew he could run at the front of the pack. And now he has done it. By qualifying second and finishing second in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix he’s proved he’s the real deal, even though he was eventually disqualified because of a fuel flow sensor issue. He followed that up with third places in Spain, Monaco and England, plus his win in Canada.
During the Bahrain race Ricciardo dueled with and passed his vaunted teammate Vettel. That decisive pass really showed that Ricciardo has established himself in the Red Bull squad.
“It is important,” Ricciardo agreed. “Seb has been dominant in F1 for the last four years, and it is nice to come in and show that I can race at the front.”
“We are competitors,” Ricciardo said of Vettel. “But Seb has been really nice welcoming me into the team. He did not have a great day (at Montreal), but he still gave me genuine congratulations and was happy that I was able to get the car up front. We both want to push each other as hard as we can. If we can do that and still have respect for the guy alongside you, it is going to bring the team a long way forward.”
Don’t count out Vettel because he is the four-time world champion. But he has realized that his new teammate is fast.
“He will try everything to give me the hardest time possible,” Vettel said. “In a way that’s what I expected and so far he has delivered.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner stated that Ricciardo has been “brilliant.”
“From the first free practice in Australia he has been right there,” Horner said. “He is driving extremely well. He is enjoying it. He always has a smile on his face whether it is good or bad. And he is racing. Anybody who had any questions about his ability to move forward through the field, he has now demonstrated that he is up there with the best. It demonstrates how sometimes it is very difficult to judge drivers in inferior equipment. Sometimes equipment masks the potential of these guys.
“We knew he was good through what we had seen in the testing he had done with us, and his work in the simulator. He has grasped this opportunity and he is making the most of it. He has now demonstrated that he is absolutely top drawer.”
Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg have been unbeatable this season unless their cars breakdown. Ricciardo capitalized on just such an opportunity in Canada.
“It is surreal,” the smiling Aussie said when asked to reflect on his first victory. “It is not like I had a whole lot of laps to know that I was going to win the race. When you see athletes after they have their first big achievement and they say that they can’t describe the feeling – it sounds like all of them say the same thing – but it is true: you do dream of it, and it is not really often that your dreams come true.”
Politically correct drivers will always have a few nice words to say about a venue when asked by the local media, but they all speak from the heart when they say they love Montreal. The teams love Montreal (although working conditions are cramped) and the fans adore the place – the city, the track and the race. Everybody, therefore, was very happy that Montreal has a new 10-year contract.
“It’s one of the best races of the year,” said Lewis Hamilton who won his first ever Grand Prix in Canada in 2007. “The fans here are some of the best that we get to see. They really make the atmosphere and the city is incredible, great food, we enjoy coming here.”
Sebastian Vettel noted: “It’s one of the few places in the calendar where the whole city really parties all weekend long and embraces the Grand Prix. So they really appreciate the Grand Prix and obviously for us that’s a great feeling. You have so many fans (cheering for us) during the drivers’ parade, but also when you race you see full grandstands and it just makes your job extra special.”
Despite a TV audience that is declining in some key markets, and the negative publicity arising from Bernie Ecclestone’s legal difficulties in Germany, the extension of Canada’s contract demonstrates that the sport still commands a respectable following in North America.
The national, provincial and city governments revealed that they will be providing a total of $188 million over the coming decade, with a further $32 million set aside for upgrading the pits, paddock and other facilities at the island track. The garage, paddock and team hospitality areas do need to be expanded, although that’s difficult to do with the lack of space on the island.
Winning his first career race in Montreal was an added bonus for Daniel Ricciardo.
“I am just stoked to get my first win in a place that I love a lot,” he said. “It is one of those races on a calendar that you look forward to and it’s one that I’ve enjoyed since I came here.”