For the benefit of those who might need reminding after reading Monday’s sports pages, Daniel Ricciardo won the Belgian Grand Prix.
It was easy to overlook that fact with the headlines dominated by the turmoil at Mercedes after Lewis Hamilton accused championship-leading team mate Nico Rosberg of deliberately colliding with him.
But if the young Australian felt in any way aggrieved that his second win in a row, and third in the last six races for champions Red Bull, got less recognition than it deserved then he was not showing it.
His beaming grin was as broad as ever as he stood on the podium and it did not fade even when second-placed finisher Rosberg faced twice as many questions in the ensuing news conference.
“To have three in 12 races I think has exceeded a few expectations. Let’s say the in-team battle has gone really well,” he said.
“Obviously, I’ve showed speed throughout qualifying and also races now. I’ve demonstrated good racecraft and good consistency so I think let’s say the team has been really pleased and I’ve been pleased, so we’re in a good place.
“I’m enjoying it more than ever. Each race that goes on I’m having more and more fun so yeah, just having a good time,” smiled the Australian.
Ricciardo has crept up on Mercedes by stealth after champions Red Bull started the season written off as no-hopers slowed by a long list of problems with the Renault power unit in testing.
Seen by some as little more than four-times world champion Sebastian Vettel’s number two after replacing compatriot Mark Webber, the Perth-born driver has clinically reversed the roles like a smiling assassin.
He is smooth, economical with the car and very quick.
Sunday’s win was Red Bull’s 50th in Formula One and Ricciardo added another mark on the milestone as the first Australian to win at Spa since the late Jack Brabham in 1960.
Before Sunday, despite his success in the previous race in Hungary, the odds on Ricciardo winning were still only 30-1 and even that was not particularly tempting.
“I wouldn’t have been brave enough to put a bet on us even with those odds,” said Red Bull team principal Christian Horner. “So quite an incredible performance by Daniel.
“It’s remarkable that Daniel’s won only one less race than Nico so far this season.
“In all honesty, we never thought he was going to be as strong as he has been. We knew he was fast, we knew he was a very good racing driver. But I don’t think any of us, probably not even Daniel, realised just how good,” added Horner.
Ricciardo is the only driver really taking the fight to Mercedes, the only one other than Rosberg and Hamilton to have won races this year and the only one resembling anything like a championship threat to them.
While still a definite long-shot, the Red Bull driver is now only 35 points behind Hamilton but 64 adrift of Rosberg with seven races remaining. With double points for the finale, that makes 200 still to be won.
“If I’m within 50 coming into Abu Dhabi then yeah, but there’s still a few races to go,” Ricciardo said when asked whether he considered himself in the title hunt. “While it’s still mathematically possible, yeah, we’ll keep fighting.
“To come and steal some points on a circuit where, let’s say, we weren’t supposed to is nice but I think what’s important, looking ahead, is to capitalise on the circuits that we should be strong on,” he added.
“If we can take maximum points, let’s say, at a couple of those then it’s never over.”
Mercedes, who are still expected to wrap up both titles, have begun looking nervously in his direction after Sunday’s implosion.
Motorsports head Toto Wolff made that clear after the grand prix when, discussing the Mercedes policy of allowing the drivers to race each other, he told reporters: “We don’t want to end up in Abu Dhabi, with a season where we lost the championship, be it constructors’ or drivers’, because we’re too much race fans.”
Rosberg also acknowledged after qualifying, with Vettel third on the grid and Ricciardo fifth, that Red Bull were closing the gap.
“We’ve seen that Red Bull are a lot quicker here on the straights than they have been. So they have definitely made a step forward and we need to keep an eye on that,” he told reporters.
“It’s going to be a challenge against them. I still think we have the best car but something is a bit different, a bit new.”
A bit different, a bit new. That sounds very much like Daniel Ricciardo. (Reuters)