Daniel Ricciardo

The F1 mid-term report

Who has starred, who has slumped and who needs to step up at the halfway stage of the F1 season?

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

The verdict on Formula One so far in 2017? Pretty positive. There’s genuine competition between teams for race wins and the drivers’ championship, which there hasn’t been in some time, and the new-for-2017 regulations have delivered monstrously fast and mean-looking cars that look spectacular on track (but struggle to overtake one another, as the Hungarian GP made very evident). Add to that the craziest race in recent times in Azerbaijan when Daniel Ricciardo saluted, and there’s a lot to like.

What’s more, the look and feel of an F1 weekend in the post-Ecclestone era has been a breath of fresh air. Ladies and gentlemen, social media! Actual vision from inside a drivers’ briefing! Something extra for the fans at a race weekend! It’s been quite the eye-opener.

Before we launch into our mid-season report, and before you ask, we haven’t failed maths – yes, Hungary was race 11 of the 20-race F1 season, but coming as it did before the one-month hiatus and the next race in Belgium at the end of August, it was worth waiting until school was out properly until making some mid-year grades. On that very subject …

Dux of the class

We’ve been waiting a long time for a proper championship battle between Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton – since 2007 in fact, when both made their Formula One debuts in the same season (Vettel became a full-timer on the grid a year later). And at the halfway stage of the season, it’s Vettel who has shone brightest. But only just.

Both drivers have four wins, but the German has led the title chase since taking the opening round in Australia, and has been his consistent self since – 11 races, 11 finishes, eight podiums, and a worst finish of seventh at the British Grand Prix, when he suffered a puncture in sight of the flag. It’s hard to see how he could have done much more.

The intrigue in this battle is how both protagonists go about achieving the same goal in different ways – Vettel’s metronomic approach contrasts sharply with Hamilton’s peaks and troughs. When the Mercedes W08 isn’t in the set-up sweet spot, Hamilton has been outshone by new teammate Valtteri Bottas, who seems better equipped to cope with a car that’s not quite there. But when the Mercedes is dialled in, Hamilton has been brilliant in qualifying (he has six poles in 11 races), and occasionally utterly dominant in races – his Silverstone weekend was as emphatic as it gets.

Both drivers have their emotional frailties – again, which manifest themselves in different ways – which makes the second half of the season and their likely first head-to-head battle for the title so mouth-watering in prospect. You can’t help but wonder if the three points Hamilton relinquished in Hungary after pulling over to let Bottas finish third to honour an in-race agreement will come back to bite him later in the season, though. The in-house tension at the Silver Arrows since the apolitical Bottas replaced the cunning Nico Rosberg has dissipated almost completely, but what if that new-found harmony comes at the cost of a title?

Encouragement award

We’re not going with the ‘every child wins a prize’ philosophy here, but this one could be split four ways.

Bottas, firstly: after coming across to Mercedes in the wake of Rosberg’s shock decision to walk after winning the 2016 crown, the Finn has made every post a winner in what is essentially a make-good contract; nail 2017, and his future should be rosy. He’s won twice (Russia and Austria), matched Vettel for the most podiums in 11 races (eight) and proven to be the consummate team player. Mercedes would be mad not to keep him in 2018 – he’s clearly fast enough and apolitical enough.

Ricciardo deserves a mention here too. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, he’s always there, pressing on relentlessly like a honey badger attacking a hive of bees. His Azerbaijan win – when all looked lost early in the race when an unscheduled pit stop had him at the back of the field – was almost unsurprising in that he made the best of what was on offer on a crazy day, and that ‘best’ was good enough for a fifth career win. Is there a driver better or cleaner in wheel-to-wheel combat?

As a team, Force India deserve a pat on the back here. Fourth in last year’s constructors’ championship, the Indian-owned British-run team has consolidated that in 2017, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon both finishing in the points nine times in 11 races. The pink-liveried team has clearly established itself as the best squad outside F1’s ‘big three’; now, all it needs is for its drivers to stop tripping over one another in races …

Finally, a nod to Nico Hulkenberg, who is now an uncomfortable two races away from equalling compatriot Adrian Sutil’s unwanted record of most F1 starts without a top-three finish (128). You can’t do much more in a Renault than Hulkenberg has this year, the German scoring points in five races and qualifying in the top 10 six times.

Could do better

Reasons Ferrari shouldn’t retain Kimi Raikkonen next year: in 70 races since he re-joined Ferrari for the 2014 season, he’s been beaten by teammates Fernando Alonso (2014) and Vettel (since) 49-21 in qualifying, 7-0 in race wins (he hasn’t won a race since Australia 2013 for Lotus, 86 Grands Prix ago), 30-11 in podium finishes, and has scored 37 per cent of his team’s points in that time, explaining why the team with this year’s drivers’ championship leader trails Mercedes by 39 points in the constructors’ race.

Reason Ferrari will keep Kimi Raikkonen next year. Hungary.

You can understand Ferrari’s logic here; while Raikkonen is a long, long way from his 2007 world championship-winning heyday, he doesn’t play politics, has a wealth of experience, gets on with Vettel and doesn’t rock the boat. When Ferrari orchestrated races in Monaco (unofficially) and Hungary (officially) to ensure the Finn stayed behind a race-leading Vettel, he expressed his disappointment, sighed and moved on. It would have been so easy for Raikkonen to push an ailing Vettel hard in Hungary to stand on the top step of the podium for the first time in an age, but, out of contract and with (arguably) no other team likely to offer him one, that wouldn’t have been the brightest idea.

Expect Raikkonen to be renewed at or before the Italian Grand Prix next month – and expect plenty of F1 fans to wonder just what another driver could do in a car that Vettel has proven is a genuine race-winner. Raikkonen is clearly worthy of being in F1 for his name and pedigree alone, but with a top team?

Needs a strong second semester

Both Toro Rosso drivers could use a good end to 2017, but for entirely different reasons.

Carlos Sainz must wonder what he needs to do to get a break; the Spaniard has scored 35 of his team’s 39 points this year alongside Daniil Kvyat, and amassed 77 points to the Russian’s eight since the pair became teammates at last year’s Spanish Grand Prix, when Max Verstappen took Kvyat’s place in Red Bull’s ‘A’ team. Sainz is good enough to drive further up the grid, but won’t be going anywhere as Red Bull’s insurance policy in case Verstappen or Ricciardo bolt one day.

As for Kvyat? Considering he has more penalty points on his FIA super licence (10) than he’s scored points (eight) in the past 28 races, the end for the driver derisively referred to as ‘the torpedo’ must surely be nigh, with 2016 GP2 champion Pierre Gasly waiting impatiently in the (Red) Bull pen.

Extra detention

One driver and one team get the unwanted nomination here. Jolyon Palmer hasn’t made much of a case to be retained by Renault, being out-scored 26-0 and out-qualified in all 11 races by Hulkenberg this season. He couldn’t have come much closer to a top-10 finish – Palmer was 11th in Monaco, Canada and Austria – but with Renault in a tight fight for places 5-8 in the constructors’ championship, it needs more than one car to make a contribution.

As for McLaren – or more pertinently, McLaren-Honda – the less said the better. Sixth for Alonso and 10th for Stoffel Vandoorne in Hungary gave the team that has won 182 Grands Prix and 12 drivers’ championships nine points in one race – compared to the combined two points from the opening 10 races this year …

Can the team extract itself from the Honda engine deal to go elsewhere (Mercedes?) while covering the financial shortfall an early divorce with the Japanese manufacturer would create? That’s uncertain, but what we do know if that while Vandoorne has time and talent on his side, it’s a crying shame to see a 36-year-old Alonso struggling like this. F1 is undoubtedly in a better place when the Spaniard is mixing it up the front of the field.

The Dan Diaries: Crazy good, crazy bad

Daniel Ricciardo writes about a post-win celebration that wasn’t, marvels at Valentino Rossi, and weighs in on Hamilton v Vettel in Baku.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Things I didn’t expect to do at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix? Win it. If I’d have thought I was a chance of a victory, I would have planned something better than what happened afterwards. As celebrations go, it wasn’t particularly high up there – but I couldn’t help it.

I finished the race, did the podium, walked into about two hours of media, then went straight to the charter flight with the team that had been waiting for me to finally stop talking. We took off, straight back to England, and I was checking in where we stay at Milton Keynes near the factory around 2am Monday morning, which was probably 5am Baku time. Tried to get some sleep, mostly failed because my mind was still ticking over thinking about the day, and then I was at the factory at 9am in the simulator for a 10-hour day. This F1 thing is pretty glamorous, don’t you think? Saying that, if someone was to say ‘you can win this weekend, but you still have to do simulator on Monday’, sign me up. Every time.

It’s been a week or so since Azerbaijan, but I’m struggling to remember any race I’ve done that was as crazy as Baku was. It got to the point where we’d done that many re-starts and that much had happened – every two laps it seemed like my race engineer Simon (Rennie) was on the radio telling me something had happened to someone else – that anything seemed possible. When I got up to third and Lewis (Hamilton) and Seb (Vettel) were in front, I was anticipating a penalty for Seb for what happened with Lewis – don’t worry, I’ll get to that – so I figured second would be great. Then Simon tells me Lewis has a loose headrest, of all things, and has to pit. You seriously couldn’t make it up. And there I am in first.

I was pretty stoked that I was leading, but there was half the race to go, and you figure that everyone else has been having dramas, so my next one can’t be far off. I’d had to pit earlier than I wanted because of the debris I picked up from (Kimi) Raikkonen’s front wing early on that sent the brake temps through the roof, but surely something else was going to happen, wasn’t it? But it didn’t, and after all that, I’d won my fifth Grand Prix. When they crossed to me in the car on the slow-down lap, I couldn’t stop laughing. I mean, what was I supposed to say after that? Even if I’d finished fifth, I would have come out of that one with a massive smile on my face.

Everyone wanted to talk and re-watch the pass I did to get up to third after the re-start when I got past the two Williams boys, and it was definitely one I enjoyed, and one that set the win up for me in the end. The funny part about it was that I’d actually discussed doing it before it happened. We were in the red flag period and I said to my trainer Stu (Smith) that I thought third might be on at turn one at the re-start, and he didn’t disagree. I guess I was committed to going for it even before I got back in the car! Definitely a sweet one to pull off, and at the time I thought that might have set up third for me, so I was stoked with that. It got better though …

What’s weird is that I’ve won five races now, but haven’t qualified well for any of them – I was 10th in Baku after stuffing up qualifying and sticking the car in the wall, and all five of them have been from outside the top three on the grid. Maybe qualifying is over-rated? But in all seriousness, in all five of those races, something has happened where a chance to get up there has presented itself, and I’m not going to let that go if it happens. It’d be nice to know what it must be like to qualify on pole and then disappear and win by 20 seconds, but all of them have been about seizing an opportunity. The races that I’ve won have all been exciting races, and when I got the call to box about five laps in or so, I thought I was done and I’d probably be retiring, a bit like I did in Russia when the brakes were on fire. Definitely thought it would be a DNF.

The big talking point out of the race was the incident with Lewis and Seb – told you I’d come back to that – and everyone seems to have an opinion about it. So here’s mine. There’s a view going around that Seb got off lightly with the penalty he got, but to me, that’s only because he ended up beating Lewis, and that only happened because Lewis had his own issues with the headrest. If that hadn’t happened and Lewis won, which he looked like was going to, and Seb was, say, fifth or something, then there wouldn’t be as much noise about it. For me, a 10-second stop-go penalty, the one Seb got, is the biggest penalty you can have without being black-flagged. There’s no bigger time penalty because you lose 20 seconds in the pits, and then you have to be stationary for 10 seconds. A light penalty in my view would have been if the stewards had added 10 seconds to his race time at the end, and I would have agreed that a penalty like that wouldn’t have been enough. But I thought what they did was fine, and I don’t think what he did was enough to be disqualified. So for me, it was the right penalty. What he did wasn’t right, but it wasn’t dangerous – we were doing 40km/h – so it was more silly than anything. It’s done, and I don’t think it should drag out any more. Somehow I reckon it might get discussed in Austria though!

I got some downtime eventually on the Wednesday after Baku, and got to spend some time at home training and do some stuff for my birthday on the weekend, so that was cool. Turning 28? Yeah, not unhappy with that. But it did get me thinking about one of my favourite sportspeople and one of my favourite sports – Valentino Rossi and MotoGP. He’s 10 years older than me, and someone told me that the span between his first win and his most recent one at Assen (the same day we raced at Baku) was 21 years. 21 years! The winning – and he’s clearly done heaps of that – is one thing, but he’s an inspiration even just from a physical standpoint. MotoGP is such a physical sport (not to mention the injuries you put up with), so for him to still be doing it the way he is and to be right up near the front in the championship again – it’s pretty remarkable.

Mentally, he clearly hasn’t been ground down by the travel, the off the bike stuff, the commitments outside of racing, and that’s almost as impressive. For me, when the day comes one day (hopefully not for a fair while!) that I stop, I reckon it’ll be the fatigue with the whole circus and wanting to lay low for a bit and not see an airport that would be more of a factor than physical fatigue or losing that thrill of competition or driving these cars. With Valentino, what amazes me is that I know the commitments I have and how busy life can be, and if you multiplied that by 50 (or probably more), that’s him. Combine that with the physical side and how he’s racing against guys a generation younger than him and he’s still right up there, he just amazes me.

Anyway, I’ve got off-topic a bit. There’s a race this weekend, and given it’s Austria we’ll be pretty busy, which is cool. Baku was such a crazy race that it’s hard to read too much into the performance side of things, but we were more competitive even when things were more normal on Friday, and I reckon we’ve made a step. But in saying that, I reckon Mercedes gave us a look at what they might have up their sleeve in Baku when (Valtteri) Bottas was chasing down (Lance) Stroll in those last few laps. When he turned up the wick, that thing absolutely flew, and they probably still have a chunk of time over us, nobody is denying that. But things are getting better for us, and we have a few updates coming for Silverstone and a few again for Budapest. I’m hopeful that, with a combination of the Budapest track suiting us and some improvements on the car, we can be competitive there. And if there’s any more craziness to take advantage of, then I’ll be in there again …

The Dan Diaries: Why Monaco is magic

Daniel Ricciardo writes about the most famous F1 race of all – and why street circuits sort out the men from the boys.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s about to be the busiest week of the year with Monaco this weekend, which is why I’m spending some time now just cruising, chilling at home in my apartment, and waiting for the chaos to begin! But the chaos is definitely cool, and it’s the one race of the year that the time before you get out on track for first practice can’t go quickly enough.

I’ve lived here now since the middle of 2013, and there’s definitely no other week like the race week. Monaco changes so much from what it normally is that I hardly recognise the place to be honest. It feels like a real race track, and I’m not thinking ‘there’s a cafe I eat at’ or ‘there’s a street I ride my Vespa down’ or whatever. All these restaurants and bars have pop-ups that just emerge for the week, and with all of the road closures, it doesn’t really feel like home at all, even though you’re at home surrounded by your own stuff. The boats in the harbour get bigger too, not that they’re ever that small here …

The logistics of the whole event are pretty unreal too when you think of what a small space it is. The Porsche support paddock is near where I live, and the World Series paddock is on the other side of Monaco altogether. There’s cars stashed all around the city, which is kinda cool. It always amazes me how fast everything gets packed up afterwards too. The grandstands, those guys don’t muck around – give it a week or two after the race, and things are more or less back to normal, which is pretty impressive.

Probably the weirdest thing for me with Monaco is the routine you get into for the weekend when you live here. You wake up in your own bed, kick around your apartment and then start the journey to work. Walk down to the port, get onto a boat, and then onto the Energy Station which is Red Bull’s base for the weekend. It’s a nice way to get to work! It’s the little things like that that mean I can’t ever see the novelty of Monaco wearing off on race week. I’ve done F1 for a few years now and there are things like, say, testing, where it doesn’t give you the excitement it once did. But Monaco on race week – you’d never take it for granted.

Thursday practice is all about recalibrating your brain to just how tight this place is, getting your eyes to adjust to seeing barriers and not grass or gravel run-offs. I always think that some drivers are born with some street circuit abilities and are confident, and others aren’t. The first time I ever did a street circuit was in Macau, and I really didn’t know what sort of driver I’d be – I’d either be shit-scared of walls, or love them! But I loved them straight away. When one driver would, say, clip a barrier and not want to do that again, I’d be more like ‘let’s do that again if it makes my lap faster’. Walking that tightrope is just so cool. But Thursday at Monaco has to be a gradual process. You need as much track time as you can get, so going too hard too early and smashing up the car can ruin the whole weekend, so you build and build as the sessions go on. The idea is that by Saturday afternoon in Q3 when you have that one lap to nail it in qualifying, you’re completely ready to push that little bit more.

Picking a favourite part of the track is hard because it’s all so good, but Tabac and the entry to the Swimming Pool section are pretty special. They’re the fastest corners on the track and I like the fast stuff, plus you have to use all of the track. Tabac, the commitment you need is pretty immense, and you see the guys with the confidence on street circuits have the car pinned right up against the outside barrier, whereas some other guys will be half a metre away. And Swimming Pool, jumping across the kerbs … so good. The hardest corner? Turn 1, Sainte Devote, which is why you see a lot of people drop it in the barriers there. It’s tricky, the apex is a bit blind, and you normally get there in qualifying when your tyres are at their coldest. If you lock a brake, you’re in the barrier or have to bail out and go left down the escape road, so your lap is gone. For me, that’s always been the corner on the track where if you get it right, it feels seriously good. It’s the one corner where you always feel you could have got a bit more out of it, but you’re better off being at 98 per cent there than over the top.

Last year I got pole and did a 1min 13.6sec lap, which was seven-tenths faster than I’d done all weekend before that. It was the most intense 73 seconds of the year, and I can remember the lap pretty clearly even now. That first corner, I nailed it in terms of the braking point and not locking a wheel, and I remember getting out of Turn 1 and feeling really confident that something good could be about to happen. When I got to Mirabeau, there’s a banking right on the apex, and your front wheel either drops into it or skates across it. The front wheel dropped perfectly, and that gave me even more confidence. And then the last sector of the lap, it’s the part I like best and where I feel I really come into my own. Add all of that together – it’s my only pole position so it’s not like I have heaps of them to remember, but it was a pretty sweet lap because even now, re-thinking it corner by corner, I can’t see where I could have realistically got much more out of it.

There’s so much going on socially during this week that there’s distractions everywhere if you’re looking for them. I actually find that motivating – there’s all these people here for the show, Monaco is the centre of attention, and I’m in the middle of it – there’s a chance to be the hero of the scene! Every year I have friends who come to this race, and part of me is envious because they’re able to soak the whole experience in. Even if you’re not at the events and the parties, you still feel the atmosphere. The good thing for me is that if I have mates come to other races that are a bit quieter, I worry that maybe they won’t have as much to do and I feel more obliged to make sure they’re having a good time and all of that. Here? I can let them get on with it – point them in the direction of some bars and hopefully join them Sunday night if everything goes like I want it to!

Daniel Ricciardo’s Spanish lessons

How different is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in the fastest cars F1 has ever seen? We asked the Red Bull Racing star.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Ask any Formula One driver to draw you a map of the circuit they can recall with the greatest accuracy, and there’s a fair chance the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will appear in front of you.

Why? Most F1 drivers have spent more time lapping the Spanish circuit than any other, mostly because of its use as a pre-season testing venue of choice in the northern hemisphere winter while the rest of Europe shivers in February. Every corner, every straight, every camber change – F1 drivers have this track down-pat. Or at least they did, until this season.

Wider cars with more downforce and bigger, grippier tyres greeted the F1 pilots when they arrived in Barcelona for pre-season testing three months ago, and for those drivers who have been pounding around the Spanish track for years, it was quite an eye-opener. When the rule changes for 2017 were announced in 2015, Nico Rosberg set pole for the Spanish GP with a lap of 1min 24.681secs. This year, in pre-season testing, Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari set the benchmark of 1:18.635, a whopping six seconds faster than just two years ago.

For the drivers, 2017 has meant recalibrating their brains for the fastest cars F1 has ever produced. At all four races so far this year – Australia, China, Bahrain and Russia – the pole position times have smashed the overall circuit lap records, some of which had stood for 13 years.

This weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix is the first time the drivers arrive at a track knowing exactly what to expect from this new generation of cars, and for Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo, it’s a chance to test his memory on what he learned back in February. “They’re a lot different to drive anywhere compared to last year’s cars,” he says, “but this time, we know what we’re getting ourselves into.”

Which sections of the 4.655km track below are a game-changer compared to last year? Our affable Aussie highlights four bits below to keep an eye on when you’re watching round five of the season this weekend.

Turns 2-3

As Ricciardo highlighted earlier this year, the revered Turn 3 at Barcelona has gone from being a 220km/h corner last year – no walk in the park – to an eye-watering flat-out 255km/h right-hander that places massive strain on the drivers’ necks. “It’s a big jump, not a gradual one,” he says.

What’s more, Turn 2, the sharp left-hander that sets up the long run into 3, has become a challenge in its own right.

“Turn 2, I think there were a few laps in winter testing where it was full-throttle,” Ricciardo grins.

“If you set a lap up good and stayed tight on the exit, you could do Turn 2 AND Turn 3 full, so that was a big difference – and very cool!”

Turn 7

There was nothing particularly special about this corner in the past, other than seeing how much of the inside kerb the drivers would dare to take as they strained to save valuable milliseconds in qualifying. In 2017-spec F1 machinery? Ricciardo’s verdict: “sweet”.

“Turn 7, the little left-hand flick, that was a lot quicker in these cars than I can ever remember it,” he says.

“That’s only ever been a fourth-gear corner, and now it’s fifth gear. So, intense!”

Turn 9

Along with Turn 3, this is the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya’s signature corner. The right-hander comes at you over a crest, meaning the car feels light as the drivers are stomping on the loud pedal to blast down the back straight. Attempting to keep your foot buried in the throttle for this turn in testing became a game within a game for the drivers, and we saw several spinners as the tyres simply couldn’t cope with the entry speed.

“With Turn 9, the right-hander into the back straight, if we get a headwind there this weekend, we could take that one full (throttle) as well,” Ricciardo says.

“(Teammate) Max (Verstappen) tried it in testing but ran out of road and had to lift out of it. But in these cars, this one is super-quick.”

Turn 16

Barcelona doesn’t quite save the best for last, but it’s not far off. While the last section of the lap isn’t the flat-out blast that it once was before the current configuration of corners were brought in before 2007, it’s still a challenge – although Ricciardo admits to considering what it would be like with the former layout.

“With these new cars, it makes me wonder about the last sequence of corners where we can see the track that MotoGP has used and F1 used to with the two high-speed right-handers,” he says.

“I never got to drive those with the old layout by the time I came into F1, but in these cars – wow! The track is always physical anyway, but that would have made it something else for your neck. Brutal.”

As it is, the new cars have added a physical element to what had become a corner that was only occasionally a challenge.

“The very last corner has been full with very low fuel in the past, but on high fuel and when the tyres wear, that’s been pretty tricky,” he says.

“But the grip and downforce now is so good that in testing this year on our long runs, that was still easily flat.”

First race in first place

On the anniversary of Max Verstappen’s maiden F1 win in Spain, we look back at the last five drivers who discovered there’s nothing quite like your first time.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

This time a year ago, Max Verstappen stunned the Formula One establishment when he took his maiden victory on his first weekend for Red Bull Racing at the Spanish Grand Prix. Verstappen’s win meant he was F1’s latest first-time victor … until last time out in Russia, where Valtteri Bottas’ triumph for Mercedes saw the Finn become the 107th driver to win an F1 race.

As we get set to hear plenty about Verstappen’s 2016 heroics ahead of this weekend’s race in Barcelona, who are the five most recent F1 winners, and at what races did they make their names?

Valtteri Bottas

First race win: Russia 2017 for Mercedes
Wins since: N/A
Races before first F1 win: 81
How it happened: For a driver who had only taken his first pole at the previous GP in Bahrain, Bottas was as cool as ice on the streets that surround the Winter Olympics venues from Sochi 2014. From third on the grid, he zapped the Ferrari duo of Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen before the second corner, and rarely put a foot wrong despite Vettel closing late in the race, winning by six-tenths of a second.
He said: “I always knew I could get good results if everything goes right and I always trust in my ability, but it’s nice to get confirmation that the results are possible.”
Stat fact: Only eight Finns have raced in F1, and Bottas became the fifth of them to win a race (along with Keke Rosberg, Mika Hakkinen, Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen).

Max Verstappen

First race win: Spain 2016 for Red Bull Racing
Wins since: None
Races before first F1 win: 24
How it happened: On his first weekend for Red Bull after being switched from Toro Rosso in place of Daniil Kvyat, Verstappen made the most of the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg taking one another out on lap one to get to the front after the final pit stops had shaken out – and stayed there despite Raikkonen’s Ferrari breathing down his neck in the closing laps.
He said: “I have no words for it. It was very good company on the podium, I mean Kimi even raced against my dad, so it’s very funny! I was celebrating a lot on the in-lap and I got a bit of cramp, but that’s part of it.”
Stat fact: As well as being the first Dutch driver to win a race, Verstappen became the youngest-ever F1 winner at 18 years and 226 days.

Daniel Ricciardo

First race win: Canada 2014 for Red Bull Racing
Wins since: 3
Races before first F1 win: 57
How it happened: Mercedes had won the opening six races of 2014 before F1 came to Montreal, and when Hamilton retired with brake failure after 45 laps, teammate Rosberg looked imperious until his own brakes started to fade, and a charging Ricciardo took the lead of an F1 race for the first time with two laps to go. The race – and his first win – finished at walking pace after a massive shunt between Sergio Perez (Force India) and Felipe Massa (Williams) at the first corner of the last lap brought out the safety car. Before 2014? Ricciardo had never scored a single point in Canada.
He said: “I think it still seems a bit surreal to be honest, just because it all happened so quickly at the end. Finishing under the safety car made it a bit weird, but I wanted to make sure the two drivers who were in the accident were OK before I started celebrating.”
Stat fact: Ricciardo became the third driver to win their maiden Grand Prix in Montreal in seven years (Hamilton in 2007, Robert Kubica in 2008).

Pastor Maldonado

First race win: Spain 2012 for Williams
Wins since: 0
Races before first F1 win: 24
How it happened: Seven different winners in the first seven races of 2012 as the sport tried and failed to get a grip on Pirelli’s tyres was one thing, but this was downright nutty – Maldonado scored just one point in his debut season in 2011, and had never finished better than eighth in a race before his first win. He inherited pole after Hamilton was sent to the back after a technical breach, but resisted huge pressure from none other than two-time world champion Fernando Alonso in a Ferrari at his home track to win by three seconds. Maldonado never made a podium again, became infamous for his accident-prone approach, and lost his seat in the sport at the end of 2015.
He said: “There was some moments that he (Alonso) was so close, especially at the end of the race. But I was managing the gap and controlling everything.”
Stat fact: Maldonado scored 25 points for this race win; in the other 94 Grands Prix he contested, he scored 51 points and never finished better than seventh.

Nico Rosberg

First race win: China 2012 for Mercedes
Wins since: 22, and the 2016 F1 world championship
Races before first F1 win: 110
How it happened: The other first-time winner in that crazy 2012 season start? Rosberg, back in the days when Mercedes winning races was a novelty. The team didn’t finish on the podium once in 2011, but Rosberg was imperious in the third race of the following season, starting from pole in Shanghai and winning by 20 seconds. It was Mercedes’ sole success of 2012, and the first victory for a works Mercedes works team since 1955.
He said: “Unbelievable feeling, very cool, very happy, very excited. It’s been a long time coming for me and the team also. I didn’t expect to be that fast.”
Stat fact: In winning for the first time on his 111th start, Rosberg slotted into fifth on the list of those who have waited longest for their maiden victory behind Mark Webber (130 starts), Rubens Barrichello (123), Jarno Trulli (123) and Jenson Button (113).

The Dan Diaries: Aiming for gains

Daniel Ricciardo writes about the lessons learned from the first four races of the year, and why everyone in F1 is talking about Fernando Alonso and the Indy 500.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

It’s been a while since we did one of these, but things have been a bit busy, so that’s my excuse. Since Australia, it seems like we’ve been on the road the whole time. With Spain coming up next and Monaco after that – which means I get to sleep in my own bed – there won’t be as much time on the road. Which will balance out the crazy schedule I’ve kept this week since Russia.

We had the race last Sunday in Sochi, and then things got hectic – I managed to do five flights in 36 hours or so! I went from Sochi straight after the race to Budapest for a show car run on the Monday, and from there it was Salzburg for a night, then to Graz, then to Milton Keynes and the Red Bull Racing factory for a day in the simulator, and then back to Nice and home. So there’s been a bit going on after I basically had last Sunday off.

Russia was a bit of a non-event for me unfortunately, and I was actually pretty surprised when someone told me that being out after five laps was the earliest I’ve ever retired from a race in all my time in F1. I’m not even sure there were two flying laps after the safety car on lap one and then my brakes catching fire and having to come in. So it was weird being at an F1 race and it going on around me, and I wasn’t in it. I didn’t enjoy it a lot …

What do you do when you’re out of a race that early? I actually didn’t have any idea what you were supposed to do. Is there a procedure you’re supposed to follow? Is there a list of things you have to do? There wasn’t much to debrief, and it wasn’t like I needed an ice bath or to be rehydrated or anything. I got changed, did my media commitments, chatted to my physio Sam (Village), and then went to the garage to watch the race. I ended up watching the whole thing standing up, mostly because I had way too much energy because I was still jacked up and hadn’t used any of it in the race. It was a weird thing, you spend the whole day building up and trying to store energy so you can peak for that 90 minutes of the race, and then you don’t get to use all of that adrenaline. So yeah, it sucked alright, and I actually felt a bit confused! Here’s hoping I don’t have to do that again for a while.

It’s been a mixed start to the season for me – a fourth and a fifth which were OK, and a couple of retirements, which isn’t what you ever want. We’ve all got a good idea of where we stand now, and I know we still need to see where we are in Barcelona, but unfortunately we’re too far away from the front at the moment. Even if we have a good update in Barcelona, it’s hard to see how that instantly puts us on the top step, and we all know that. It could take a little while for us to be able to fight for some wins, but we’re optimistic we can make up some good ground.

It’s frustrating that we’ve started a bit further back than what we hoped we would, but more generally it’s positive for the sport that we don’t have Mercedes dominating by two seconds a lap again and there’s some competition up front with Ferrari giving them a hard time. That’s definitely a good sign for the sport based on what has happened the last few years – it’d be nice if we can join in though, and I’m optimistic we can.

I’ve definitely got a feel for the new cars now too, and the one thing I can absolutely say is that they’re way more fun when you’re driving by yourself over one lap, in qualifying when everything’s turned up, you’re on low fuel and you’re really pushing. From the physical side and as a challenge, that’s great. The racing though – I’m still not sure.

Passing or getting close to another car to pass is definitely more difficult, and there’ll be some tracks that lend themselves more to that than others of course, but the main issue is that because the cars are wider and they take up more space on the track, it’s harder to get clean air and some empty track to get a bit more downforce on your car. Little things like that make a huge difference, and I reckon all of us drivers would agree that it’s easier to defend now, but harder to follow. It’s not like the cars are massively wider, but when you think of that extra width as a percentage of the racing line we’ve been used to – it’s a big change. When you’re taking away width from what was a narrow racing line to start with, it makes a big difference.

We’re bringing a pretty significant upgrade to Spain and that’s been spoken about a lot, and you can be sure all of the other teams will be pushing like crazy too. That’s something I’ve noticed since I’ve been with a big team like Red Bull, you normally go to Spain with pretty much a different car. So it’ll be a reset for us to get a read as to how much improving we need to do. There’s no magic bullet in F1 that’s going to see us start winning every race from here, that sort of thing just doesn’t exist. So I’m hoping we can be pleasantly surprised with any gains we make next weekend. Spain will probably shape the season from Barcelona until Budapest and the mid-year break, so it’s an important one for us to get as right as we can.

Outside of the racing and everyone being away from their bases with the flyaways, the biggest story in F1 lately hasn’t had anything to do with F1 at all – I’m talking about Fernando (Alonso) doing the Indy 500. It just created a massive amount of hype when the news came out and was all everyone was talking about for a while there. When you think about it, he’s about to do his first IndyCar race on an oval, and not just any oval, the most famous oval of all on the most famous weekend in oval racing anywhere – it’s pretty massive. Just a cool sporting story.

I love Indy, but if I’m being completely honest, it scares me. So for him to go and do that for his first time on an oval, wow. As long as I had the right preparation before I jumped in the deep end, I’d be up for an IndyCar race on a road course, but an oval, I reckon I’d be more up for a NASCAR. When you think of all the steps he has to do, the rookie orientation practice, the learning to run in traffic on an oval – it’s very intense and a very big deal. You have to give him all the credit in the world for having a crack. All I know is that there’ll be a lot more F1 people than usual who end up watching Indy this year to see how he goes – we need to find someone who has a massive TV so we can watch the race Sunday night after we’re done at Monaco. I guarantee you we’ll all be watching to see how he goes, and anyone who loves motorsport will be too.

6 things we know about F1 2017

Three races into a new era of F1, can we paint a picture of the season to come? Yes, and no.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Formula One comes ‘home’ to Europe this weekend, with the Russian Grand Prix bringing the sport back closer to its heartland after the opening trio of races in far-flung Australia, China and Bahrain to kick off the 2017 campaign.

Next month’s Spanish Grand Prix usually ramps up the development race behind the scenes, as teams bring major upgrades to their cars that have largely competed in pre-season spec during the logistical challenge of lugging parts and personnel around the world for the first three races. Some teams will make big gains (and some would want to, we’ll get to them), but we have a fairly clear picture of the shape of the season to come already. And it’s a picture that, for neutral fans, looks pretty. A genuine fight up front, a mixed-up midfield and the fastest cars we’ve ever seen means there’s much to look forward to.

What do we know, what have we learned, and what will happen from here?

Merc must make a call

One of the by-products of winning 51 out of 59 races since the advent of the V6 turbo hybrid era since 2014 as Mercedes did heading into this season was that the opposition were little more than an afterthought. The so-called ‘rules of engagement’ between Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg were an internal policy of how the drivers would race one another en route to another inevitable Silver Arrows win; one of those rules would have been “don’t hit one another on track”, which they managed for the most part if we discount Belgium 2014 and Spain last year …

Ferrari’s resurgence this season means Merc has a red-coloured riddle to solve, and with Sebastian Vettel mounting a solo challenge to Mercedes’ dominance, perhaps the time has come for the champion team of the last three years to prioritise one driver over another. Twice in the most recent race in Bahrain, Valtteri Bottas was asked/told/coerced into moving over for the faster Hamilton; by the end of the race, Vettel was grinning after his second win of 2017, and opened up a seven-point lead in the title chase.

Bottas is already 30 points – more than one race win – behind Vettel after three Grands Prix, which means Mercedes can’t have him taking points off Hamilton in the fight with Vettel that will surely rage until the finale in Abu Dhabi. Expect much hand-wringing on the Mercedes pit wall as it has to deal with a problem that has been a non-factor for three years.

Vettel is like a dog with a bone

This year’s version of Vettel reminds us of the 2010-13 iteration at Red Bull where he was massively motivated to capitalise on a great car, and not the 2014 model who appeared to check out mentally to some degree as Ferrari loomed large in his future. In a car that’s clearly a massive step forwards from its predecessor, if Vettel gets the slightest sliver of daylight to slip into, he’s taking it. When he gets to the front, his pace is metronomic and mistakes are rarer than rare. Provided Ferrari can stay as sharp on the strategy front as they have in the first three races, Vettel might be the championship favourite.

It’s a big two, not a big three

Pre-season predictions had Mercedes and Ferrari up front with Red Bull lurking closely behind, but that’s not what has happened. Just one podium – from Max Verstappen in China – from the nine available so far isn’t much to write home about, and both Mercedes and Ferrari have doubled Red Bull’s constructors’ championship tally of 47 points in just three races. In Australia, the fastest Red Bull in qualifying (Verstappen) was 1.2secs off pole, and the lead Red Bull in the race (again Verstappen) finished more than 28 seconds behind race-winner Vettel. In China, the margins were 1.3 seconds off pole in qualifying (Daniel Ricciardo) and 45 seconds in the race (Verstappen in third), while in Bahrain, Ricciardo’s sensational qualifying lap was still nearly eight-tenths of a second slower than Bottas’ pole, and he finished fifth and 39 seconds from the win after Verstappen retired with brake failure. The team plans to introduce a significant chassis upgrade for the Spanish Grand Prix next month, but for now, Red Bull remains in an anonymous class of one, well behind the top two teams, but streets ahead of the rest.

It’s time for Raikkonen to go

The one driver we haven’t yet mentioned from the top two teams? That’d be Kimi Raikkonen, who is yet to outqualify Vettel in the sister Ferrari (the average deficit is four-tenths of a second) and has been beaten by the German by an average of 29 seconds in three races. The Finn turns 38 in October, and while age isn’t necessarily a deterrent to success in the premier class of a global motorsport championship (look at the MotoGP championship leader, 38-year-old Valentino Rossi), it’s surely time to bring in someone younger, hungrier and capable of mixing it at the front when Raikkonen’s contract runs out at the end of the season. The 2007 world champion remains one of the most popular drivers amongst fans for his approach to anything that doesn’t involve driving, but the stats don’t lie; he’s not won a race in four years, had a pole position since the French Grand Prix of 2008, and scored less than 60 per cent of the points managed by teammates Fernando Alonso and Vettel since returning to Ferrari in 2014. Can the Prancing Horse really fight Mercedes when one of its drivers can’t get out of a trot?

Hands up who wants fourth?

Behind Tier A (Mercedes and Ferrari) and Tier A-minus (Red Bull) lies a fascinating midfield fight, if the first three races are any indication. Williams has Felipe Massa ploughing a lone furrow, as teenage teammate Lance Stroll is yet to finish a race and has completed just 52 of the combined 170 laps. Force India, with Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, have scored points with both drivers in all three races; only Mercedes and Ferrari have done likewise. Toro Rosso has pace with Carlos Sainz and Daniil Kvyat, and a team boss in Franz Tost who expects “that we will make it to Q3 with both cars (in Russia) and that we will score points with both cars … and that this will be the standard for all the races to come.” And while Haas has just eight points in three races, Romain Grosjean has two top-10 qualifying results, and the team has use of the potent 2017 Ferrari engine. This will be a fun fight to watch.

Alonso is still a megastar

He’s yet to score a point, finish a race, and lead anything other than the unofficial scorecard for radio rants this season, with Raikkonen’s moaning a close second. But proof that McLaren-Honda’s woes haven’t dimmed the star of Alonso was plainly obvious when he made the shock announcement before Bahrain that he’d be skipping the Monaco Grand Prix next month for a McLaren-endorsed tilt at the Indianapolis 500. Yes, Nico Hulkenberg’s Le Mans win two years ago garnered plenty of positive press, but nothing like this. McLaren’s decision to allow its star driver to play for a weekend in IndyCar and miss a Monaco layout that won’t show up its woeful lack of engine performance is surely just one way to keep a star employee happy while distracting attention away from just how dire its F1 season has been. Whatever the motivation, you can bet the Indy 500 will be watched more closely than ever by plenty of F1 people next month.