Daniel Ricciardo proves he is among F1's best
Four podiums in a row, a win, fourth in the championship standings in a car that shouldn't be there, and keeping his head when others around him lost theirs - should Daniel Ricciardo be regarded as one of the best drivers in F1?
Ricciardo was barely seen en route to his Azerbaijan GP win on Sunday, but that has been the story of his season really, but it hasn’t done him any harm so far.
The Australian came into 2017 as Red Bull’s ‘other driver’, cast into the shadows by the bright light of Max Verstappen, the next big thing.
But when Ricciardo has been given that moniker in the past, he has stepped up to the plate in style.
In 2014, taking on four-time champ Sebastian Vettel, he beat him definitively. Andwhen Verstappen began to get the upper hand last season, Ricciardo went on another fine run to secure third in the title race, two places above the ‘main attraction.’
Through no fault of his own this year, Verstappen has spent almost more time watching races than he has spent racing in them, with yet another car failure letting him down while he was fighting for third in Baku.
Ricciardo too had his share of drama in Azerbaijan though. Mired in qualifying after a rare crash, he started down the field. And with debris in his brake ducts, an early stop saw him plummet down the order to get it cleared.
But while everyone in front had their dramas, and title rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were forced into extra stops through a loose headrest and dangerous driving penalty respectively, the consistent Ricciardo inherited the lead and didn’t look back.
He may steal more headlines for his podium celebrations and drinking from a shoe than for his driving, but Ricciardo should now be ranked among the upper echelons of the sport.
Vettel, Hamilton and Fernando Alonso are regarded as the top three, but Ricciardo’s almost subconscious ability to be in the right place at the right time to capitalise on the misfortunes of others, not to mention his natural speed behind the wheel, must have him knocking on the door of the top three.
Now he, and indeed Verstappen, just need a car underneath them to give them a title shot.