My opinion: Is Ricciardo really troubling Vettel?

4th place for Ricciardo, 5th for Vettel. On paper, this may sound like a minute, almost un-noteworthy victory. Once we delve deeper, however, Ricciardo’s performances are suggestive of possible superiority, and quickly transforming into dominance entirely over Vettel. For two races in succession, the young Australian has eclipsed the reigning world champion. His qualifying performances paint a similar picture: 3-1 to Ricciardo in both scenarios.

Incredibly, Ricciardo could have quite easily been enjoying an utter whitewash, had it not been for a pit stop horror followed by a bizarre front wing failure in Malaysia.

The Chinese GP at Sepang marked the second race in succession that Sebastian Vettel received a radio transmitted team order to let Ricciardo past. In Bahrain, he did so calmly, quickly and maturely without any ostensible anger or resentment. China however was a different story. Early on in the race, Vettel was running ahead of Ricciardo, but was failing to match his pace. As a result, ‘Danny’ closed up the gap and was quickly all over the back of his senior team mate. The team requested for Vettel to wave Ricciardo through, assuring Sebastian it would be beneficial to both of them in the long term. Vettel monosyllabically requested clarification as to whether they were on the same tyres – which they were. He quickly responded to his team ‘tough.’ Refusing to let his new team mate past, the team reassured Vettel, saying the two were running contrasting strategies. After a lap and a half of heated wheel to wheel action, Riccardo bulldozed past Vettel into the first corner. The world champion seemingly ran wide after outbraking himself marginally. He later claimed to have had a change of heart and let Riccardo through, however Daniel was less certain.

“I don’t know [if Sebastian obeyed orders], all I know is I got through eventually and managed to stay in front.

I’m sure Sebastian won’t be impressed with his result today, and will be back in Spain, but so will I.”

As impressive as the Australian’s on-track performances have been, and as daunting and/or off putting as they may appear to his teammate, the way in which he conducts himself off track could quite possibly be of even greater an advantage psychologically.

In their separate post race interviews, Ricciardo responded to questions fresh-faced, cooperative and happy to have finished 4th, despite being tantalisingly close to Alonso’s podium finish. Sebastian Vettel, in contrast, was approached cautiously by world media as he returned to the Red Bull motorhome stone-faced and glum. His responses were articulated in a far more monosyllabic and pessimistic, accusing tone than his Aussie counterpart. Such behaviour is one of the many contributing factors as to why Ricciardo is a fan favourite and Vettel is simply not. Looking back at past performances, at Melbourne for example, the crowd erupted with cheer when their hometown hero crossed the line to claim his first podium, yet they responded with similar ecstasy upon realisation of Vettel’s unfortunate premature retirement. Although he may claim to feel indifferent towards the reactions of fans, such overwhelming favouritism from F1 followers and media alike will undoubtedly aid Ricciardo and hinder Vettel psychologically as the season progresses, particularly if it is correctly assumed that Red Bull will close the gap to Mercedes and become more competitive, thus allowing their drivers the opportunity to fight for victories and other significant results.

Despite being plagued with woeful luck, mirroring his preceding countryman, Ricciardo could not possibly have asked for a better start to the season. Despite trailing his team mate due to circumstantial shortcomings, there is no doubt that the young Red Bull rookie is ruling the roost and currently has the measure of his quadruple world champion team mate. Vettel is historically a driver who improves and begins to develop, or indeed extend his advantage over his team mate, but the majority of his career has been spent alongside Mark Webber – who now already appears to be a lesser quantity than Ricciardo, meaning Vettel may not be able to emulate his previous transformations in form. It is therefore only a matter of time until we either see Vettel forced to step up his game, or buckle under the pressure he simply did not expect to be placed under by his deceptively talented teammate.

Australian GP:
Qualy RIC 2 VET 13
Race RIC DNF* VET DNF

Malaysian GP:
Qualy RIC 5 VET 2
Race RIC DNF VET 3

Bahrain GP
Qualy RIC 3 VET 11
Race RIC 4 VET 6

China GP
Qualy RIC 2 VET 3
Race RIC 4 VET 5

Qualy: 3-1 to Ricciardo
Race: 3-1 to Ricciardo
OVERALL: 6-2 to Ricciardo

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