Ricciardo now a serious title contender?

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates victory in Montreal

Daniel Ricciardo celebrates victory in Montreal

The 2014 Formula 1 World Championship title could be the next on the radar for Formula 1’s newest race winner. Impressive Red Bull newcomer Daniel Ricciardo drove past Mercedes‘ technical trouble in Canada last weekend to record his first grand prix victory and position himself as a serious title contender.

Should Mercedes hit a spate of problems, as they did in Canada, and Red Bull keep improving – keeping in mind that Newey inspired upgrades traditionally kick in around the time of Singapore – Ricciardo is well positioned to capitalise and perhaps even launch a title bid in the latter half of the season.

The feat earned the ringing endorsement of his predecessor and countryman, Mark Webber, who is currently preparing for the weekend’s Le Mans 24 hour race.

“He hasn’t put a wheel wrong all year so far,” Webber told NBC. “There’s been testing regulations, wet Qualifyings, all sorts of stuff thrown at him. But for him to notch up his first win is a big step for him.”

Ricciardo, 24, is currently riding a wave of form that even his teammate, the reigning quadruple world champion Sebastian Vettel, is struggling to match. But he might not stop at beating Vettel. Since Bahrain in April, Ricciardo has notched up three podiums and never finished lower than fourth.

Daniel Ricciardo could have his eye on the title

Daniel Ricciardo could have his eye on the title

He even stood on the podium on Red Bull debut in Australia, but was disqualified amid the fuel flow saga. He then struck more technical trouble in Malaysia.

Red Bull’s Helmut Marko told Auto Bild: “Just imagine, if Daniel had not had two zero points results, he’d be even closer to [Lewis] Hamilton.”

Indeed, even amid Mercedes’ total domination in 2014, Ricciardo – the highest-placed non-Mercedes driver – is just 39 points behind Briton Hamilton after seven races.

Double world champion Mika Hakkinen is impressed, telling Hermes, “I’ve noticed that Ricciardo has been able to exploit his maximum potential almost constantly, whether it’s qualifying, racing, overtaking.

“We can’t forget that his teammate is the four-time world champion, but it has been Ricciardo who has been passing the chequered flag in front,” Hakkinen said.

And Hakkinen said Canada will now put a lot more wind behind Ricciardo’s sails, “I experienced it myself when I got my first victory at Jerez in 1997,” he said. “The self confidence you get is reflected also in your performance.”

Helmut Marko celebrates in Canada

Helmut Marko celebrates in Canada

However, the blunt Marko is keen to keep Ricciardo’s feet on the ground. He said a cursory look at the results reveals a “distorted comparison” between the always-grinning Australian and the highly successful Vettel.

“Sebastian has had bad luck with the technology,” said Marko. “But in Malaysia he had a trouble-free race and he [came] to the finish ahead of Daniel.”

Marko said even Ricciardo’s win in Canada needs a closer look, with only “bad luck” holding back third-placed Vettel.

“Daniel was fast the whole race,” he said, “but Vettel was not slower.”

Marko said that a failed GPS system on the pitwall, and a further “miscalculation” by Red Bull regarding Vettel’s race strategy, thwarted the German’s progress.

“It definitely was not Vettel’s fault,” he said, “that Ricciardo did not stay behind him.” (GMM)