Some years, you get to the final race of an F1 season and are sure that it was only five minutes ago that everyone was gathering in Melbourne full of energy and optimism; other years, like this one, the end of the season can’t come soon enough for most.
An endless stream of Mercedes 1-2 finishes, the British media not covering itself in glory when it reports on races that Lewis Hamilton doesn’t actually win (the boys at Box of Neutrals didn’t miss them last week), the second-best car on the grid being driven hard by one driver and like an indifferent superannuant by another (my weekly Raikkonen whack), and no local interest for Australian fans at the front of proceedings … it hasn’t been a banner year for F1, which was always likely after last-season’s tension-filled finale under lights in Abu Dhabi.
If it’s been a long season for many F1 fans in Australia, you can only imagine how Daniel Ricciardo must feel. Abu Dhabi last year might have produced the best drive of his F1 career, even in a year where he won three races and stood on the podium eight times. After Red Bull had both of its cars excluded from qualifying for running an illegal front wing last year, Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel both started from the pit lane, and Ricciardo finished an incredible fourth – and even more incredibly, 35 seconds ahead of the four-time world champion in the sister car. Ricciardo felt it was his most complete effort of the season, and it made for riveting TV at a track that’s never going to set pulses racing (insert your favourite variation on the ‘lipstick on a pig’ joke here). Ah, those were the days …
In some ways, Ricciardo’s 2015 season is the campaign I expected him to have last year, where the Red Bull was slow and fragile in pre-season testing before unexpectedly coming to life when it mattered most. That such a compromised season has come so soon after his breakout campaign has been a test of character, and he’s passed that with flying colours despite the massive frustration hidden beneath that perma-grin. As a leader, he’s grown immeasurably in the past 12 months, and at some stage that’ll come back to benefit him. It didn’t happen last weekend in Abu Dhabi, and might not happen next year either. One wonders whether he’ll still be driving a Red Bull by the time the team is ready to fight for something meaningful again, but that’s another story.
The final race review of the season is the focus of Episode 129 of ‘The Inside Line’ this week, and it’ll be right up your street if you like silver-liveried cars that win a lot. Check it out.