Sunday at Silverstone is Daniel Ricciardo’s time to make amends. Ever since the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2012, when a career-best sixth on the grid quickly became an afterthought following a tentative first lap that saw him elbowed all the way back to 16th, the Australian has been, in his words, “hanging out” for a chance to mix it with the big guns at the pointy end of a Formula One grid once again.
Thanks to a grid penalty for unlucky Scot Paul di Resta that sent the Force India driver to the back of the grid for Sunday’s British Grand Prix, Ricciardo will start from a career-best fifth at Silverstone, one place behind compatriot Mark Webber and mere metres behind the all-Red Bull second row of Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Within touching distance of the cars entered by the team he so desperately wants to drive for in 2014 and beyond. And with Webber, on announcing he was vacating his seat at the three-time reigning constructors’ champions, endorsing his countryman as being ready to take the next step and join a team competing for race wins and titles.
Ricciardo has replayed that first lap from Bahrain 14 months ago over and over in his head since. Tortured himself with it. He’s vowed to never be that tentative again should be find himself close to the front when the five red lights go out. With world champions such as Raikkonen, Alonso and Button behind him on Sunday’s grid, not to mention the ever-present danger posed by the king of carbon fibre carnage, Romain Grosjean, the first 10 seconds at Silverstone will tell us much about Ricciardo’s mindset and the ability to right past wrongs.
For Australia’s Inside Sport magazine earlier this year, I asked Ricciardo about that first lap in Bahrain – and rather than play down its significance or avoid the question, he tackled the question head-on. The trademark toothy grin appeared at first before he became, by his easy-going standards, atypically serious and reflective.
“It can be quite easy to lose momentum – you get a poor start off the line, you brake too early for turn one, and it snowballs,” he said.
“Maybe that can come down to being a little tense and not grabbing it by the horns.
“The aggression is something every driver has got, and each of us is a bit of an animal. Whether we show it 90 per cent of the time or 10 per cent of the time, it’s in us. We’re at the top level of the sport, and all of us have had to make some pretty ballsy passes to get here.
“It’s not something I need to find from somewhere, because it is in me and I know it is. As much as I smile outside, there’s definitely some fire in this belly.
“Last year I probably didn’t use the aggression inside of me as often as I should have. If I didn’t have any aggression, I’d be struggling and I don’t think I would have got here.
“I want to prove to any people who think I’m a bit soft that I’m actually a racer.”
Fighting words. Just watch that third row on Sunday.