Max? I’m only scared of sharks and snakes!
Daniel Ricciardo is refusing to be drawn into a battle for supremacy inside Red Bull Racing with Max Verstappen.
Ricciardo’s dominant qualifying advantage against his two teammates this season — Daniil Kvyat until the Spanish Grand Prix, then Verstappen — was broken at Silverstone two weeks ago when the Dutchman beat him to third on the grid by 0.3 seconds.
Verstappen went on to finish second to Ricciardo’s fourth, bringing his total points scored since joining Red Bull Racing to 77, which is 13 more than the Australian has managed in the same time frame.
“I’m aware he’s obviously done very well and he’s had the win and the podiums,” Ricciardo said in Budapest. “I don’t like looking back, to be honest, but I could’ve had at least one win.
“He’s been competitive, and it hasn’t just been that I’ve had all the bad luck and he’s had all the good luck — obviously he’s been quick and he’s put himself there.
“I won’t ever make excuses — if he’s beaten me fair and square I won’t say it’s because he’s done this or that. Unfortunately he’s scored more than me, but I’ve got a few races now to close it up.”
Red Bull Racing’s new driver partnership has provided highlights for both sides of the garage. Ricciardo’s dominance around Monte Carlo contrasted sharply with Verstappen’s crash-strewn weekend, but Verstappen made short work of Ricciardo on track in Austria and Silverstone.
Adding spice to the fight is that both are protégés of Red Bull’s young driver programme, though with dramatically different backgrounds — Ricciardo took a more conventional route through the European junior series whereas Verstappen was fast-tracked into Formula One with just one year of car racing experience under his belt.
The teenager’s rate of development, having turned just 18 in his debut season last year, has staggered the paddock, particularly given the lengthening career of the modern athlete.
“It’s an interesting one — if he’s to keep progressing at the rate he started, if he’s to keep getting better and better for the next five, 10 years, then perhaps it’s frightening for quite a few people,” Ricciardo mused. “But the only things I’m scared of are sharks and snakes, so that’s okay!”
Verstappen wouldn’t be the first to apply serious pressure to a Red Bull Racing incumbent in his debut year with the team. The tradition began with Sebastian Vettel beating Mark Webber in 2009, then continued with Ricciardo beating Vettel in 2014 before being beaten himself by Daniil Kvyat in 2015.
“I guess there have been some similarities at times,” said Ricciardo. “You don’t like getting beaten, but I think at the same time if you can understand it and if it’s just that he was better on that day or he worked better with the engineers and he set the car up better, then you just have to take it on the chin and move forward.
“If they’re consistently doing something better, then sure you want to try and work it out. Obviously he’s done very well, but I think once I get the ball rolling it’ll be okay.”
The Hungarian Grand Prix at Budapest’s Hungaroring presents Ricciardo with his best opportunity to start that recovery process, the circuit a happy hunting ground for the Australian in the past.
In 2014 Ricciardo won the race from Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in a thrilling climax, and in 2013 a similar conclusion looked due until a crash with Nico Rosberg locked him into third place.
The slow and twisty permanent track also suits the Red Bull Racing RB12, which excels on circuits that reward cars able to produce high levels of downforce.
The team is tipped to give Mercedes a run for its money this weekend in a possible three-way fight with Ferrari.
“I think realistically we can be really close to Mercedes and Ferrari here,” Ricciardo agreed. “I wouldn’t say it’s impossible [to win]. I think we’ve got definitely a good chance at a podium, that’s the first thing well set our sights on, and then we’ll see — hopefully somewhere higher on the podium.
“Especially with our car we look at probably three on the calendar — that’s Monaco, this, and Singapore — as our best chances of at least a podium.
“Here what I’ve always really liked is it’s like Monaco as well; you don’t really have much time to think and you can just connect the dots, and once you get into that rhythm or that zone, in a way it can become effortless.
“It’s sort of subconscious and it’s quite fun, you being in that sort of zone, and you can just zigzag your way through the track and then you’ve done a lap and it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, that was fun’.
“It’s quite easy to get a good rhythm around here, and I’ve always found that — so I’ll find it this weekend and hopefully it puts us far up the front.”