Month: May 2016

Front to back: the Monaco Grand Prix

Reviewing every F1 team and driver from the year’s most glamorous GP.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Mercedes
Lewis Hamilton:
qualified 3rd, finished 1st
Nico Rosberg: qualified 2nd, finished 7th
A race that Hamilton won, or one that was gifted to him? Red Bull’s calamitous pit stop on lap 32 for race leader Ricciardo gave Hamilton the track advantage that goes nine-tenths towards a win at Monaco, and despite some desperate defending after various safety car re-starts, the Mercedes driver always looked to have the Aussie under control, making his ultrasoft tyres last for 47 laps in a marathon stint even Pirelli admitted was beyond their expectations. Hamilton had led one lap all season before Sunday, but when presented with an open goal by Red Bull, duly drilled it into the back of the net for his second Monaco win, the 44th of his career, and the fourth win in a row by Mercedes in Monte Carlo. Rosberg struggled with brake issues in the early stages and was instructed to let Hamilton past by Mercedes, and spent much of his race tucked up behind Alonso’s McLaren, a sentence that’s unlikely to be written again any time soon. Getting mugged by the Force India of Hulkenberg on the run to the chequered flag compounded a miserable afternoon for the championship leader, who saw his series lead slashed to 24 points, less than a race win for the first time this season.

Ferrari
Sebastian Vettel:
qualified 4th, finished 4th
Kimi Raikkonen: qualified 6th, did not finish
Another race that promised much and undelivered for Ferrari, with Vettel finishing where he started and Raikkonen making an error befitting a Monaco rookie, not a driver who has a Monte Carlo history stretching back to 2001. Try as he might, Vettel couldn’t catch the similarly soft tyre-shod Force India of Perez in the final laps to snare a podium, while Raikkonen’s race was over when he clouted the barrier at the hairpin on lap 12 – and then inexplicably dragged his broken front wing beneath his car through the tunnel and for another five corners before parking up. A five-place grid penalty for the Finn after qualifying for a gearbox change was hardly his fault; his actions on race day were careless and dangerous, in that order.

Williams
Felipe Massa:
qualified 14th, finished 10th
Valtteri Bottas: qualified 11th, finished 11th
Monaco has been a bogey track for Williams in recent years – the team had just two points finishes between its two cars in the previous four races in the Principality before Sunday – so a single point for Massa and a near-miss for Bottas was something after a weekend where pure performance was hard to find. Massa was on his back foot after a Thursday practice crash but crept into the top 10, while Bottas was agonisingly close to scoring his first point in Monte Carlo. Canada next time out should be more to the team’s liking.

Red Bull Racing
Daniel Ricciardo:
qualified 1st, finished 2nd
Max Verstappen: qualified 21st, did not finish
Ricciardo was publicly pragmatic after a strategy decision scuppered his chances of a win in Spain last time out, but made his true feelings better known on Sunday, when a win – another one – was taken from his hands. Starting from pole for the first time in his 94th Grand Prix, Ricciardo was in devastating form once the safety car allowed the pack to go racing on lap eight, storming away to a 12-second lead as the others slipped and slid behind him. A lap 23 pit stop for intermediate tyres went smoothly, and while he lost track position to Hamilton, he looked to have the world champion covered until his second stop on lap 32, where he sat for an eternity in his pit box waiting for tyres that should have been ready. The usually talkative Aussie was at a loss for words after the race, and his best result of the season should have been one better. Teammate Verstappen fell back to earth in a big way after his memorable win last time out in Barcelona, crashing heavily in qualifying, starting from the pit lane, scything his way into the top 10 and then throwing it all away with a shunt at Massenet. A Monaco podium isn’t to be sniffed at for any team, but few at RBR would have been satisfied with Sunday’s result.

Force India
Nico Hulkenberg:
qualified 5th, finished 6th
Sergio Perez: qualified 8th, finished 3rd
A quite incredible day for the English-based Indian-owned outfit, with Perez taking the team’s first Monaco podium, and Hulkenberg elbowing Rosberg out of the way on the run to the finish line for sixth. Perez’s podium was the sixth of his career, and he made his tyres last in signature style to grab a great result when the opportunity presented itself, a trademark of his F1 tenure. Hulkenberg was over a minute behind the Mexican at the end after being bottled up by the train of cars headed by Alonso’s McLaren, but the 23 points scored by the team represented its best single-race haul since Bahrain 2014.

Renault
Jolyon Palmer: qualified 18th, did not finish
Kevin Magnussen: qualified 16th, did not finish
With former driver Pastor Maldonado watching on from the paddock, Palmer did his best impression of the erratic Venezuelan by shunting his Renault on the start-finish straight seconds after the race went green on lap eight, spinning his rear wheels on a slick zebra crossing and spearing into the barriers. Teammate Magnussen was another to get an early bath after a shunt with the Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat at Rascasse and another nose-first meeting with the barriers later on at Mirabeau. An expensive weekend for a team that has managed one points finish in six races.

Toro Rosso
Daniil Kvyat:
qualified 9th, did not finish
Carlos Sainz: qualified 7th, finished 8th
Kvyat’s race officially ended on lap 22 after his crash with Magnussen; in truth, it ended much earlier than that, his car stuck in its pit lane speed limiter when the race began behind the safety car, which saw the Russian tumble to a lap down and in a hopeless position before a lap had been turned in anger. Sainz would have expected more after starting sixth, but got stuck in the Alonso-led train and had to be satisfied with a second points finish in as many years at Monaco.

Sauber
Felipe Nasr:
qualified 22nd, did not finish
Marcus Ericsson: qualified 17th, did not finish
An absolute nightmare of a weekend for a team with cashflow problems and limited spare parts. Running 15th and 16th respectively, Nasr was asked to move aside for Ericsson, but wasn’t keen on the suggestion. The Swede then sent an optimistic move up the inside of the Brazilian at Rascasse, and an embarrassing shower of carbon fibre was the result. Former driver turned TV commentator Martin Brundle considered the debacle to be a “sackable offence” for both drivers – before remembering that both drivers bring considerable funding to enable the team to go racing in the first place. Or watching other people race, which they did after lap 53. “Nothing more to add,” was Sauber’s succinct tweet afterwards. Ericsson was handed a three-place grid penalty for the incident for the next race in Montreal.

McLaren
Jenson Button:
qualified 13th, finished 9th
Fernando Alonso: qualified 10th, finished 5th
“Rain, snow, anything that can happen will help,” was Alonso’s tongue-in-cheek wish for Sunday’s race, and the Spaniard used the tricky conditions and track position to perfection to hold off a gaggle of faster cars for his best result of the season, and one that equalled McLaren’s best haul in the latest iteration of the McLaren-Honda axis from Alonso’s fifth in Hungary last year. Renowned rain master Button finished four places further back after rolling the dice earlier than most on intermediate tyres on a still slick track as soon as the race proper got underway on lap eight, and 12 points between its drivers saw McLaren leapfrog Haas in the constructors’ standings on a weekend where it celebrated 50 years in the sport.

Manor
Pascal Wehrlein:
qualified 20th, finished 14th
Rio Haryanto: qualified 19th, finished 15th
Getting both cars to the finish was no mean feat for Manor at the circuit where the late Jules Bianchi scored the only points in the team’s history two years ago. Wehrlein found it hard to get to grips with a circuit he was racing at for the first time, and used a lengthy opening stint on wet-weather tyres to climb up the order from his lowly grid slot. Haryanto out-qualified his highly-regarded young teammate again (it’s now 3-3 for the season in their head-to-head), but struggled with the endless blue flags that come with driving for a backmarker team on the tightest track of all.

Haas
Romain Grosjean:
qualified 15th, finished 13th
Esteban Gutierrez: qualified 12th, finished 12th
Grosjean was badly compromised by being blocked by the broken Ferrari of former teammate Raikkonen in the early stages, making his displeasure very clear over the radio, and never really figuring in points-paying contention after that. Gutierrez out-qualified his teammate for the first time all season and finished ahead of him for the second time, but Haas left its first Monaco GP weekend with no points for the third time in the past four races.

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Ricciardo takes pole at Monaco

Australian takes first career pole at the most famous Grand Prix of all.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Talk is cheap, Monaco is expensive; these things we already knew. We now know that Daniel Ricciardo is a man of his word, the Australian taking Red Bull Racing’s first pole position since the Brazilian Grand Prix of 2013 – and the first of his career in his 94th Grand Prix – with a mesmerising lap around the Monte Carlo streets on Saturday afternoon.

“The goal here is pole and win,” Ricciardo stated simply after topping Thursday’s practice sessions, and he ticked off part one of that job list with a spectacular lap of 1min 13.622 secs in the final 12-minute Saturday shootout for pole, finishing 0.169secs ahead of series leader Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), with Rosberg’s teammate and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton 0.320secs adrift in third.

Why Monaco is magic for Ricciardo

Ricciardo has had a steely look in his eye ever since the Monaco Grand Prix weekend began, his frustration over finishing fourth last time out in Spain after leading for much of the race plain to see, his new teammate Max Verstappen stealing his thunder by recording his maiden F1 success. His pace through the final sector of the lap, taking in iconic corners like Tabac, the Swimming Pool chicane and Rascasse – has been a standout all weekend, and his inch-perfect line on his pole lap through Tabac was a sight to behold.

Ricciardo was understandably jubilant afterwards.

“It’s definitely a special place,” he said of Monaco.

“I knew coming into the weekend we would have a shot at it. It looked good from Thursday. I had it in my mind also after Barcelona that I have been driving well but haven’t quite got maximum rewards, so I came into this weekend with a lot of confidence and a lot of belief I could be in this position. I have always enjoyed this place. We have a good package behind us and it’s nice to be able to make the most out of it.”

Ricciardo may have used his Saturday to set up his race on Sunday too, with a decision to run the supersoft Pirelli tyre compound in Q2 – with the rules stipulating that drivers must start the race on the same tyres they set their best lap time with to make the top 10 shootout – looking like a masterstroke after he took pole in Q3 soon afterwards. The supersoft has a longer life span than the ultrasoft, meaning Ricciardo has the more durable tyre and track position in his favour at a circuit where passing opportunities are at a premium, and where pit stops and strategic options are limited.

“The plan was to go out on the ultrasoft (tyre) in the first run in Q2 and at least try and do a good enough lap with that, and then we had the time on our side,” he explained.

“We thought ‘let’s try and see what a supersoft can do’, and we just feel maybe it opens up a few more options for the race tomorrow.”

That the forecast for the race features rain isn’t helpful for the driver on pole in Monaco; in normal dry conditions (as in a typical Monaco day), pole is akin to being 90 per cent to a race win on the streets of the Principality – eight of the past 10 races have been won from the man with ‘P1 next to his name on Saturday. But weather forecasts can wait. As Ricciardo loudly and repeatedly said over the radio after his pole lap, Saturday was “my time”. We’ll have to wait 24 hours to see if he’s right – and whether he can join Sir Jack Brabham and Mark Webber as an Australian winner of the one Grand Prix victory every driver covets like no other.

Why Monaco is magic for Ricciardo

The Red Bull racer reveals his five favourite things about the most prestigious race in F1.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Let’s face it, it doesn’t take much to get Daniel Ricciardo to smile – but the wattage on the Red Bull Racing star’s grin is brighter than usual when the Monaco Grand Prix comes around each year. The Perth-born 26-year-old isn’t likely to have a Formula One race held in his backyard in the capital of Western Australia any time soon, but as a resident of the world’s most glamorous principality for the last three years, Monaco is a ‘home’ race, and one that he embraces.

Ahead of this week’s sixth round of the 2016 F1 world championship, here’s Ricciardo’s five favourite things about the Monaco Grand Prix.

1. It’s even better than you think
“When I first came here to race in 2010, I fell in love with the streets, I fell in love with the track – it was everything I hoped it would be,” he says.

“I’d seen it as a spectator and on TV obviously, but to be out there and drive that track that so many great drivers have raced on and to be a part of it – it’s almost a bit surreal in a way, and something that will never get old for me.”

2. I can sleep in my own bed
“It’s definitely unique for that – sleeping in your own bed is good at any time with the travel that we do, but to do that and still go to work and race in a Grand Prix – that’s pretty cool,” he says.

“You can imagine how much flying we do each year with the races, testing, visiting the factory and so on, so to be in your own bed for 10 straight days and not have to fly anywhere is a small thing, but something any of the drivers here will tell you is the best.

“Walking to a track is obviously pretty rare. I moved to Monaco to live in the second half of 2013, so the first race I did here as a resident was in 2014. I finished on the podium that year – it was one of my first podiums in F1 – and after all of the hype and the attention with the podium, two hours later I was at home on my couch with the TV on like it was the most standard Sunday in the world.”

3. You always want to do more laps
“It’s one of the few tracks you go to anywhere in the world that still leaves you wanting more on a Sunday afternoon,” Ricciardo says.

“You feel as though you’ve only just found the limit by the end of the race, and then it’s over when you wouldn’t mind doing just one more lap, and then another, and then another … And then we have to wait another year for the next time, and you have to start from almost zero again.

“Shaving tiny amounts of lap time off is a massive rush and it’s the most satisfying place of the year to get a lap absolutely right. The pressure of that one qualifying lap you have to nail on the Saturday – all of us drivers love it.”

4. There’s no margin for error
“It’s just so intimidating to drive an F1 car around here,” he says.

“The first lap that you do in Thursday practice each year, it’s probably a 1min 25secs lap – and you literally have to find 10 seconds of lap time in the next two days. Even saying that sounds kind of ridiculous, so it’s a concept that sounds absolutely impossible. But we have to do it, and that’s one of the things I love about this place. This place demands 100 per cent concentration every corner of every lap of the whole weekend, because you can absolutely ruin the whole thing if you’re not completely on it.”

5. It’s a good place for a celebration
“Monaco is a bit like Oz for me in that there’s a lot going on,” he says.

“Within reason I try to enjoy it – if I have mates in town for the race I try to catch up with them – but the easiest thing is to get them to come to my place to visit, perhaps the Thursday night because we’re not on track Friday, so we can have some dinner and I can see them all with no stress. Monaco is pretty hard to get around at the best of times, but it’s obviously way harder in the race week with the roads blocked and people everywhere.

“Sunday night is always one of the best nights of the year in a place that always likes to have a good time in the evening, and there’ll often be some beach parties on Monday that keep it going. So it’s a track where you’re keen to have a good result because of its history and the challenge of it, and then you can justify partying hard in a good place for it afterwards. That’s the plan for this week!”

Dissecting the Spanish Grand Prix

The Spanish Grand Prix was one of the more strategically interesting Formula One races for some time, with Daniel Ricciardo’s hopes of a fourth career F1 victory coming unstuck after what appears, in retrospect, to be a blunder from his Red Bull Racing team.

After the race, I spoke to Michael Lamonato for the F1 Strategy Report podcast – listen to the full interview here.

Miller time: Out, but not down

Aussie MotoGP rider Jack Miller writes about being in the wrong place at the wrong time at Mugello.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Hi everyone,

What can you say about a race that lasts 23 seconds? Mugello is one of the highlights of the year for all of us MotoGP riders, but my race in Italy last Sunday was pretty much over before it started after I got taken out at the first corner. It was me, Alvaro (Bautista, Aprilia) and Loris (Baz, Ducati) all scrapping around towards the back, all probably with the same idea of making up some places after qualifying further down than we wanted. Looks like Alvaro lost the front and then his bike hit mine, it was just one of those things. But it was still massively frustrating for me after the weekend was going in the right direction.

More Miller time: Frustration in France

I’d been feeling pretty good on the bike all weekend and my physical condition has been improving, so I was pretty confident of getting some points for the first time in a while in Italy. I was 15th and then 12th in the final two practice sessions before qualifying on Saturday, and I felt my qualifying lap was pretty good, but everyone else improved too and I ended up 17th. From there, you’re always a chance to get involved in something at the first corner, especially somewhere like Mugello where we approach Turn 1 at such a massive speed. I was pretty angry after the DNF in France because it was a crash we didn’t really understand at the time – this one was more explainable because it was something that just happens. Shows you that I need to qualify better and be out of the mess that can happen from the final few rows on the grid.

You all probably saw the MotoGP race, and the whole day was just crazy. More than 100,000 spectators was something else, the noise and the yellow flares going off on the warm-up lap was pretty incredible. Of course they were all there to see Vale (Valentino Rossi) win and he was a good chance starting from pole, but he got unlucky with a mechanical failure like the one Jorge (Lorenzo) had in the warm-up on Sunday. Those 100,000 people suddenly went pretty quiet and the last half of the race was strange with so many people there, but a lot of them not making a lot of noise. Jorge and Marc (Marquez) put on a show for them on the final lap, but can you imagine if Vale had have been there too? They did get to see a full-on Moto2 race, and Moto3 was as crazy there as I’ve ever seen it, it seemed like 90 per cent of the riders were in one massive front group for most of the race. All three races were awesome, it’s just a shame I had to watch most of mine.

Mugello is just a great event, the circuit obviously is one of the best we go to all year, and the speeds at the end of the straight are insane. The fans are so passionate, and the whole Italian experience is heaps of fun. I went down a couple of days earlier this year because I stayed with my old teammate Cal (Crutchlow) and his wife Lucy – they have a place in Tuscany, and Cal and I took a ride in the amazing Tuscan countryside, which was cool. Obviously Cal and I aren’t teammates anymore, but we got on well last year and that’s continued. I was happy for him to get some points on Sunday as he’s not had much luck so far this season. Sounds familiar …

Before I went to meet up with Cal, I’d had a week or so at home in Andorra. It’s been good to get settled in a new base for me this year and actually feel at home, and Andorra has been great so far. I’ve been feeling a lot better with my foot like I said, and I’m still not 100 per cent, but getting there slowly. The scar tissue takes a long while to break down but I’m back at the cardio training pretty hard and getting into the elliptical machine again. I’ve bought a dog too, a French bulldog which I’ll bring home before the next race. It’s another thing that will make me feel more like I have a proper base. And yes, there’ll be some pics on Instagram before too long, I reckon.

I spent some of my weekend between races at home watching the F1 race in Barcelona – I got to know Daniel Ricciardo a bit when we were doing the Speed Fest in Perth at the end of last year, and I thought he might have a chance to win when (Lewis) Hamilton and (Nico) Rosberg took each other off on the first lap. I was cheering pretty hard for him but it didn’t work out for him in the end because his teammate (Max) Verstappen won – 18 years old and winning F1 races is pretty crazy. He wouldn’t look out of place in a Moto3 race at 18 …

Speaking of Barcelona, we go there next and race at the same track as the F1 boys. I had my best finish there last year when I came 11th, and that doesn’t sound like much, but I’d take that again this year because I need to get some points flowing again. The pace was pretty promising in Italy, so hopefully a good result isn’t too far away.

Catch you next time,
Jack

When the MotoGP music stops …

Has the 2017 rider market silly season come to an end? Yes, and no.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Blame it on Valentino Rossi. A day before the start of the 2016 MotoGP season in Qatar back in March, the nine-time world champion sent the sport into a spin by announcing that he’d stay with the factory Yamaha team for 2017-18. It was the first domino to fall in a frenzied rider market for next year that has, as we approach Sunday’s sixth Grand Prix of the season in Italy, largely overshadowed the on-track action this year. But a quartet of moves this week might finally see the dizzyingly fast game of musical chairs come to a halt.

But first, back to where it all started with ‘The Doctor’. It appeared untenable for Yamaha to keep their ‘dream team’ of Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo together after the Italian’s unexpectedly early announcement, and just before round four in Spain, the reigning world champion duly announced he’d be off to Ducati at the end of the year.

And then this week, four big players fell into place. Dani Pedrosa re-upped with the Repsol Honda team for two years, extending his stay at the only MotoGP outfit he’s ever known since his debut in 2006, while Andrea Dovizioso was re-signed by Ducati, also for the next two years. And then came the big moves. Maverick Vinales announced he’d be leaving Suzuki to join Rossi at Yamaha in place of Lorenzo from next season, with Andrea Iannone sliding across from Ducati to take his spot.

Let’s take a look at the key developments of this week, and what may be still to come.

Vinales sails from Suzuki
It’s been a big fortnight for the hottest young property in MotoGP, with the 21-year-old Spaniard taking a first career podium at Le Mans last time out, and then announcing on Thursday that he’d be partnering Rossi next season. Choosing to leave Suzuki would have caused Vinales plenty of sleepless nights; for one, he has no agent and is managing himself, using a lawyer only to wade through the legalese that is a necessary evil of any contract, and secondly because he had a chance to do something special for the manufacturer who brought him into MotoGP last season.

Rossi himself had an interesting perspective on Vinales’ conundrum when asked about the young Spaniard in France a fortnight ago. “For me, and I speak without knowing the contracts and the money, it’s an interesting decision,” Rossi said. “In the Suzuki there is something more romantic. He can remain on Suzuki on a bike with a good potential, and try and become like Kevin Schwantz. Yamaha is for sure a great bike, and that is another type of challenge. But it’s his choice what he wants to do.”

That choice – to attempt to win as soon as possible on a known commodity or be part of the development of something that may turn out to be great, but with no guarantees – was no easy one to make, and in Vinales, Yamaha has its succession plan set in stone for when Rossi eventually hangs up his leathers (which, incidentally, may not be after his 2018 deal ends if the veteran Italian keeps fighting for the title as he did last year and will this year). By that stage Vinales will be 23 years old, well accustomed to the life of being a MotoGP rider in a top team, and more than likely a multiple race-winner.

Pedrosa stays put
Times change quickly in MotoGP – just two weeks ago, reputable outlets in the Spanish press who rarely get things wrong had Pedrosa pegged as Rossi’s 2017 teammate at Yamaha, but on Monday came the news that the Spaniard would stay with the only manufacturer he’s ridden for since stepping out in the 125cc category in 2001 for another two years.

As he heads into his 250th GP start at Mugello this weekend, Pedrosa’s career is difficult to assess – he’s won 51 Grands Prix across all three classes, just three fewer than MotoGP legend Mick Doohan – and has finished second in the world championship three times and third another three times, without ever taking the ultimate prize. As impressive as his career stats are, the harsh reality is that three of his teammates – Nicky Hayden (2006), Casey Stoner (2011) and Marc Marquez (2013 and 2014) have been world champions on the sister bike.

Pedrosa is a known quantity, still quick enough to occasionally win races (he’s won multiple Grands Prix in nine of his 10 premier-class seasons), is perfect for the Spanish sponsors and adds an element of class that isn’t commonplace (his response to inadvertently taking out Dovizioso in Austin earlier this season was sportsmanship at its finest). But is anyone expecting that, at 31, he’ll be able to overcome Rossi, Marquez and Lorenzo in a season-long fight? That’s open for debate, but what isn’t is Marquez’s support of his teammate. “In the end he is a good rider; also he is important inside the team, after all of these years. For me, like I already said two years ago, Dani is a good teammate,” Marquez said in France.

A tale of two Andreas
Rossi staying, Lorenzo going. Pedrosa coming back, Vinales sliding over. And Dovizioso being the chosen Andrea to partner Lorenzo next year. Iannone may have stamped his ticket out of Ducati when he took out his 30-year-old teammate on the last lap of the second race of the year in Argentina when both red bikes were in podium positions, and after Iannone’s management made it known that the 26-year-old had been offered a contract from Suzuki even before Vinales announced he was leaving, and well before Ducati announced it would stick with Dovizioso earlier this week, it was only a matter of time before both moves were confirmed.

There’s still intrigue over some riders who are already on the MotoGP grid, and some who want to be. Who will give Moto2 star Alex Rins the chance to slide into the premier-class spotlight his talent demands? And are the likes of Pol Espargaro (who has waited patiently at Yamaha’s satellite Tech 3 squad for a chance to jump to the factory team when either Rossi or Lorenzo left, and has now been leapfrogged by Vinales) and Cal Crutchlow (who has scored just five points in five races this year for LCR Honda) stuck where they are for the time being?

It seems the music is finally beginning to slow down in the 2017 game of musical chairs after a quite crazy two months. Although there is one rider you may have heard of who hasn’t signed anywhere for ’17 – yet. His name? Marc Marquez …

Ricciardo’s right-hand man

Stuart Smith has played a big role in Daniel Ricciardo’s rise as an F1 force.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

Formula One may be a team sport, but it’s the individuals competing in it who are subject to the most scrutiny, who accept the plaudits, who hog the headlines. But an F1 driver can’t do it all alone. And in the high-pressure, sometimes artificial and often surreal world of one of the biggest sports on the planet, it’s often a driver’s trainer who fulfils the role of physio, confidante, adviser, sounding board and good mate.

For Daniel Ricciardo, compatriot Stuart Smith ticks all of those boxes, and several more besides. The 32-year-old Queenslander became a new father earlier this year and won’t be at Ricciardo’s side at every Grand Prix in 2016, but the working and personal relationship this pair of Aussies abroad have cultivated over five years remains rock-solid. So much so that Smith and Ricciardo have found a way to keep their partnership going despite Smith scaling back to five Grands Prix this year, the first of them coming in Spain last weekend.

When Ricciardo first joined the F1 grid midway through the 2011 season on loan to Spanish team HRT, Smith was assigned to be his performance coach. When Ricciardo moved to Toro Rosso the next season, Smith initially worked elsewhere in Switzerland before linking back with Ricciardo from the 2012 Belgian Grand Prix, and it’s a partnership that has endured ever since.

Smith and Ricciardo worked together at every race until the end of 2015, when Smith stepped aside to prepare for the arrival of his first newborn son. While fellow Hintsa Performance employee and Max Chilton’s former trainer Sam Village has taken the Ricciardo reins on a day-to-day basis at races this year, Smith continues to advise on all aspects of Ricciardo’s preparation including training with him between races at his Monaco base, and having a weekly Skype chat if he’s not on the ground at a race weekend.

Smith had never worked in Formula One before fate led him to be thrown together with his fellow Australian five years ago; somewhat sheepishly, he laughs that he had “absolutely zero interest in the sport” until he worked in it, his background as a trainer coming in rowing and swimming, among other sports. But from his earliest days in F1, Smith quickly realised that there’s no one-size-fits-all job description that comes with being a drivers’ right-hand man.

“What a Formula One driver wants from his trainer is very different and a very personal thing,” he explains.

“Some drivers employ physios and they want the physio there to work with them to make sure they’re ready physically for every session, and that might be the extent of it. There’s not much else to the working relationship, because that’s all they want.

“But by virtue of the fact we spend so much time together, you tend to pick up on signs on when the athlete is performing well and when they’re not, and you understand why that is so you can come up with a solution to fix it if that’s what is needed. You get to know someone’s signs so well that you develop a really close relationship, and that helps with being honest with one another. Honesty and trust – from both sides – is the biggest thing, and Daniel and I have always had that.

“From my experience, the honesty and trust you gain from working with someone so closely for so long is unique, and so different to working in a team sport environment because that time is being divided by multiple people. You can still develop strong relationships and understanding in that team sport environment, but it’s not like F1 where you spend so much time with the driver.”

Smith is right about that – drivers spend arguably more time with their trainers at a race weekend than family, their race engineers and significant others. Ricciardo’s days are meticulously planned to have him at his physical and mental peak for those two hours every second Sunday when the world’s best drivers set off in sight of victory. And Smith says the work the pair did as Ricciardo was finding his feet back in 2012 was perhaps the most crucial in discovering what keeps the Red Bull driver in the best place to succeed.

“That was the year when we really began to understand when he drove best, why he drove best and where his strengths and weaknesses were. That was where his personal development really kicked on,” he says.

“After 2012, we could take time to step back and look at what worked and what didn’t for him, and we understood a lot more. Daniel was always very open and keen to want to know how and why he performed best, and that year fast-tracked the process. 2012 was a good learning year.”

Ricciardo’s star really rose in 2014 when, up against four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel in the sister car in his first year at Red Bull Racing, did what no other teammate to Vettel has done in a decade – out-perform him over the course of a season while taking three stunning victories in a year dominated by Mercedes. Smith’s memorable in-garage celebration when Ricciardo took a lead he wouldn’t relinquish in Montreal for his maiden win that year saw the Aussie become an inadvertent 24-hour internet sensation thanks to a widely-circulated gif; all of the hard work, the attention to detail and commitment had reaped the ultimate reward for the first time, and Smith was just as emotionally invested as the man behind the wheel. It’s memories of days like that – and Ricciardo’s successes since – that meant Smith was always going to stay on board with Ricciardo this year, even with life changing around him.

“There’s a lot of F1 trainers who can go and work with other guys, but because I’ve spent so long with him, there’s no way I could work with another F1 driver that wasn’t Daniel if Daniel was still on the grid,” Smith says.

“I’m so invested in his performance, not only professionally but as a mate, that I could never go and work with someone else.”