The Aussie, who it seemed was drafted in to become Sebastian Vettel’s assistant, has in fact outthought, outraced and, even, outpaced his more illustrious team-mate.
Ricciardo, the new kid in town, is here to win championships, and he has the capabilities to do so. Formula One has been crying out for something new and fresh at the front of the grid and Ricciardo looks to be the man ready to take the old guard by storm.
So far this season, he has beaten Vettel in seven of the 11 qualifying sessions and finished ahead nine times on race day. Vettel has had reliability problems but they don’t hide the fact that he has been trounced by his team-mate so far.
But Vettel is a four-time champion and will go down, one day, as one of F1’s modern greats. He will improve his form, he will get to grips with the new rules and he will provide stiffer competition for his team-mate. Only when that happens will we really see how good Ricciardo can be, when faced with a full-strength multiple world champion.
However, he is already showing traits of being a future world champion himself. Naturally, he is fast. He is smart, and can make decisions on his own. This was highlighted by his call to come into the pits early enough so that he had time to come through and win the race in Hungary. The team can’t make every decision. A driver that makes good ones is invaluable.
And, most importantly, he isn’t flustered in tense scenarios. His bullish and aggressive move on Lewis Hamilton was controlled. He saw his opportunity and he took it. He then went on to take Fernando Alonso and win the race in fine style. It is this which sets champions apart from the rest: The ability to perform, and even thrive, under pressure.
If his form continues, and it shows every sign of doing so, then Ricciardo will be third in the championship at the end of the season, behind the dominant Mercedes drivers of Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton. Next year, when the Red Bull is expected to become more competitive, the former Toro Rosso and HRT driver could be fighting for the title. So far, no weakness in Ricciardo’s armour has been found. He has a cool temperament, infectious attitude and great relationship with the fans. Vettel, in some ways, must be jealous.
But where has this come from?
Nothing like this was expected from Ricciardo. He was, after all, challenged and often beaten by the suspect Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso. But it seems that Red Bull’s junior feeder team is working wonders. It is doing a great job in ironing out any creases in any young driver and preparing them for a front running team.
The 24-year-old seems to have left all of the question marks that surrounded him at his former team. At Red Bull, he looks the complete driver and, potentially, a future world champion.