The 2017 musical chair is yet to settle down as there are still spots left in the grid to be filled up either from inside or outside. The other news on the grid is that with the retirement of Massa and the “not retirement” of Jenson Button, Formula One is going through a transfusion of young blood in great volume and with age running out of Gen X drivers, it’s time for the young ones to take the baton now. Factor in next year’s regulatory changes and we may have a new champion crowned come the end of next year.
So, suppose you have a free run to sign whichever Formula 1 driver you want. Who would you choose?
Lewis Hamilton stands out, a triple world champion and unquestionably among the all-time greats. Fernando Alonso, too, for all his light has been hidden under a McLaren-Honda bushel of late. Sebastian Vettel is another obvious choice. But the name that should really stand out is Daniel Ricciardo.
Why? After all, he has only got three grand Prix victories to his name, and when Red Bull won a race this year, it was Max Verstappen delivering the goods. And didn’t Daniil Kvyat outscore him last season in identical machinery? Plenty for the Ricciardo doubters to hang their doubting hats on.
All of those statements are true, but assuming you accept the premise that Ricciardo is regarded as one of F1’s top drivers, he is unique among them in that he has never had the best car on the grid under him. So that renders the GP wins statistic a positive rather than a negative.
Kvyat’s points tally last year was a consequence of Ricciardo having the worse end of reliability when the Red Bull was at its most competitive. As for Verstappen’s Spain win, staggering as that was, that race was one of the two Ricciardo should have taken this season taken from him by team errors. Just look at Ricciardo’s mighty qualifying lap to see how he dug deep when under pressure from his rapid young team-mate.
That Ricciardo has the speed is unquestionable. On a single-lap basis, that has been in evidence in F1 for a long time, stretching all the way back to his sixth place on the grid for the Bahrain GP in 2012 for Toro Rosso that was arguably the qualifying lap of the season. In a straight fight, over a single lap, there’s no driver you would choose over him.
In terms of consistency, we saw in 2014 against Sebastian Vettel that he was able to deliver that in races and he has continued to do so since.
In battle, he is a canny driver. Defensively, he’s not easy to get around and as for overtaking skills, that’s an area where he’s demonstrably one of the best on the grid. Actually, make that the best.
Interestingly, it was a race in which he failed to pull off a pass that exemplified this – this year’s Spanish Grand Prix. Two things stood out during his pursuit of Vettel. Firstly, his skills in overtaking. He tracked Vettel, lay in wait and then launched a sneak attack, lunging into the first corner. He didn’t telegraph his intent with some half-baked looks in previous laps, but waited and pounced. It didn’t come off, and Vettel complained but after the race, the Australian made very clear what lay at the heart of his overtaking ability.