Daniel Ricciardo the new Mark Webber?

The main storyline of the year has been a fast Ferrari vs. the Diva Mercedes; a re-invigorated Vettel vs. a determined Hamilton and rightly so although the mega battle that we were all hoping for fizzled a bit after Hungary. Still this was the first year the Silver Arrows were actually challenged on real pace and that was a good thing for F1.

I have been watching another storyline closely this year, one a bit more under the radar, but just as interesting, more intriguing and most definitely a good thing for F1. The interesting part is the meteoric rise of Max Verstappen. The intriguing part is what has happened to Daniel Ricciardo’s place at Red Bull as Max comes of age. The good part is that the grid as it stands has a wide range of drivers that are super quick and on any day can truly challenge for race wins given the proper car and conditions.

All year I have been keeping an eye on the Red Bull duo, studying the Free Practice 1, 2 and 3 times, the Qualy battle on Saturdays and of course the Sunday races. I watch and listen for the littlest of things, from each driver’s body language, how nuanced their facial expressions are when interviewed in the news pen and any subtext in what they say.

Conclusion, Max Verstappen is the de facto number one at Red Bull or to put it another way, Max is the new Seb and Daniel is the new Webbo for Red Bull. I mean, is it just me or is it a bit weird that Max hails from an area that is for all intents and purposes right next to Deutschland and that Daniel is an Aussie, or did the universe just randomly set that up? You tell me.

Does anyone remember this? Ricciardo’s first race for RB, a podium in his home GP (until he was disqualified). Ricciardo made short work of his four time champion teammate. Vettel would end up leaving and leaving the Aussie as the heir apparent, and it seemed that RB found a new leader until they found another one.

The similarities are undeniable; you don’t even have to look all that closely to see what I am referring to, here are just a few:

– Daniel joined the team earlier – he is the senior driver, then along comes a rookie who by all rights should be junior, subservient, and learning but instead is a young rookie that steals the show; it sounds just like Sebastian coming into Red Bull when Mark Webber was already established there.

-Similar to Seb vs. Mark, there is parts/engine favoritism – Daniel didn’t get the new spec Renault PU and Max did. If the reports are to be believed (and sometimes I wonder), Daniel was not even aware that Max was getting an engine upgrade in Austin. I wonder how that felt, to find out after the fact and via the media no less??? Red Bull tried to explain it away but at that point I would say the energy drinks company was a day late and a dollar short.

– Lastly, and I am going out on a limb on this one, but I’m anticipating a report any minute that Adrian Newey starts to take into consideration Max’s driving style and the new RB chassis is designed with the Dutchman in mind.

There are other reasons, such as Max has already been retained till 2020 and Daniel has not. Yep, Verstappen has already re-signed with Red Bull and Daniel was not only not offered a new deal first (and as of yet still has not been re-signed) but he would say to the media the timing of the announcement was a bit surprising. Subtext ???

To be fair Daniel still has another year on his contract and he may be in discussions right now but also may not. Either way the timing of it all has raised a few eyebrows.

Max Verstappen is truly gifted, young, fast, (very fast, super fast, did I mention fast?) and very aggressive. It has payed off several times in his short time at RB. Already a three time race winner, RB moved fast to secure his services until 2020. Great news for the Dutchman, not great news for Ricciardo.

A recent article quoting Christian Horner in classic F1 speak say Red Bull will wait for Daniel’s choice but if he does choose to move on they have Carlos Sainz Jr. as a “safety net.” Now I don’t know about you but that sounds like, “Well, if you do go Danny, it was fun while it lasted and btw don’t let the door hit you on the way out…” Maybe I’m reading more into it, what do you think???

One thing is without doubt, Max’s star is on the rise, Daniel’s is bit tarnished. You know I commonly try to work into my posts a few silly little tag lines. I do it for my own amusement and hopefully it causes you readers to crack a smile, if only slightly. On of them is the carbon fiber quip, the other is the NBC line in their advert, “Life moves at the speed of F1,” or whatever subject it is I’m riffing on. Well, Max’s time in F1 is most definitely moving at the speed of F1 and while Daniel’s at some point was moving at the speed of F1, right now it seems to have slowed not quite to the speed of a Yugo, but you get the idea. Daniel seems to be well and truly in the shadow of his young teammate.

Currently there is no way to speak about Max Verstappen without also saying future drivers champion (multiple champion). Hamilton might have won his fourth title but Max is sucking all the air out of the paddock. What did Hamilton just say? “I need to raise my game for Max…”

By contrast, despite the fact that Daniel notched up a GP win this year in Baku, somehow it has been lost in the noise of Max’s second career win in Malaysia. And now that Max has notched his third career win (second this season) in Mexico with a Senna-like “Real F1 drivers go for the gap” pass on Vettel, one would have to say the Aussie’s Baku win has all but been forgotten. Well, no one ever said F1 was fair.

Red Bul has a history of playing favorite and not fair with it’s drivers. Mark Webber could have won the title at least once while racing along side Sebastian Vettel, but that was never going to happen as long as Dietrich Mateschitz and Helmut Marko were running the show. It was such bulls**t if you ask me…

The one thing that Daniel does have in spades is consistency. But despite the points tally in the Aussie’s favor 192 to 148, Max has had the measure of Daniel all year. The qualy battle is 12 to 6 in favor of Verstappen, where they have both been able to finish a race together Verstappen again holds the advantage 4 to 2, and lastly, the one that really matters is 2 wins to 1 – advantage Max. There is no other way to spin this except to say that Max is just that much faster.

I have said this time and time again – the fastest drivers, the ones that get the top drives, are the drivers that can eke out those few extra tenths, even hundredths, on a regular basis and so far this year Max has been that guy at the expense of his seasoned team mate.

Vettel vs. Raikkonen, Vettel vs. Webber, Hamilton vs. Bottas, Hamilton vs. Button, Alonso vs. Raikkonen, Alonso vs. Fisichella or Massa, Schumacher vs. all his teammates, and now Verstappen vs. Ricciardo. It is what it is…

It must be a weird feeling for Ricciardo to be on the other side of the equation now, after stealing Vettel’s thunder in his first year at Red Bull and being the one more clearly able to adjust to the post-no-blown-diffuser era. Some would even say he pushed Vettel out of the team due to the fact that he clearly had the measure of Vettel all year long when they were at Red Bull. Switch! Positions are reversed. Right??

It is never lost on me how F1 treats its drivers and by that I mean that the drivers are arguably the most important assets of F1 but are commonly treated by the teams, by each other, the media or by the fans, like absolute, insert any word you like <here.>

No driver, not even the greats, are at any time immune from the wrath of a team principal, or the fans, or the sport itself. Does anyone remember Michael getting booed on the podium with Rubens at the Austrian GP? Those should be Michael’s people! I think it was for winning at the last moment only because Rubens was forced to yield the position. Continuing with Michael, Luca di Montezemolo all but kicked him out of Ferrari to make room for Raikkonen who in turn was kicked out to make room for Alonso, and then Luca was kicked out by Marchionne. Did I happen to say no one is immune???

See these two cars? These are the cars to be in right now and most likely for the next two years. Daniel’s time at Red Bull is up, the writing is on the carbon fiber wall. Question is, how can he get himself into one of these. There might be a seat available in 2019 in the red one when the Aussies contract is up, but until then he is going to have to just suck it up at Red Bull and deal with Verstappen as the defacto #1

Does anyone remember Damon Hill getting the boot from Sir Frank for Heinz-Harald Frentzen? And after Damon had just won a championship no less! Ross Brawn tired to renege on a deal that he had with Jenson Button after winning the drivers title. Button’s championship-winning car was promised to him provided he won the championship or something alone those lines, which he did, but Ross somehow did not want to give up the championship-winning car. Button finally got his car but really Ross, you’re going to pull that move???

So it would seem Daniel is getting the short end of the stick, similar to Mark all those years while partnering Vettel or maybe this is just the way it goes in F1 – one day you’re the talk of the town, the next day your yesterday’s news.

It is not all doom and gloom for the champagne out of the boot, big smiles, big heart driver, but for sure it has not been the best year for the driver racing #3 and as a recent F1 expert said:

Ricciardo saw off the incumbent at Red Bull, Sebastian Vettel – who headed off to Ferrari in 2015 – and then got landed with Verstappen as a team mate. The teenager exploded into F1 and has since underlined his credentials as being fast, aggressive and controversial. Nothing has really changed, other than he has gained some more experience of how to set up and drive F1 cars. The net result is that Verstappen has been a shade faster than Ricciardo this season. -James Allen-

We all know how cutthroat F1 can be. Red Bull, under the dictator Helmut Marko, Mr. “You’re only as good as your last race,” it is even more so. And while it looks more and more the case Ricciardo will be staying at Red Bull next due to the fact that the Reds and the Silver Arrows will not be changing their driver line up, this should make for an interesting case study next year over at Milton Keyes. Yes sir, it is going to be something to watch how it all goes down…

-j (………………………..)p-

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