The Mexican Grand Prix is likely to be Red Bull Racing’s last chance of the season to contend for victory, and Daniel Ricciardo wants to be the man who delivers it.
The Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City sits at an altitude of more than 2.2 kilometres, where air density is around 22 per cent lower than it is at sea level. The lack of air density means cars produce less downforce — indeed teams run their maximum-downforce kits but generate less performance than they do at Monza — and less engine power.
The combination of those two factors tends to pull Red Bull Racing towards the front of the field because the more powerful Mercedes and Ferrari engines can’t access their highest performance modes, bringing them closer to the underpowered Renault unit, and because the RB14 chassis already produces more downforce innately compared to its rivals.
The likelihood of a competitive weekend is arriving not a moment too soon for Ricciardo, whose season has stagnated since he won the Monaco Grand Prix in May.
Ricciardo’s hasn’t outqualified teammate Max Verstappen since Monte Carlo — excluding last weekend’s United States Grand Prix, where the Dutchman was eliminated in Q2 with suspensions failure — and the 21-year-old has generally had the Australian’s measure on Sundays.
But the Australian can fairly point to a litany of technical problems that have left him on the back foot on Saturday or out of the race completely — he’s retired from seven of the season’s 18 races to date.
With his time at Red Bull Racing rapidly approaching its end, Ricciardo is hopeful that Mexico could present the opportunity he needs to end his career with the drinks company on a high.
“I think we’ll have a good chance,” he said. “I’m not even going to get greedy and say a win — I’ll take a podium. Even a lousy third I’ll take!”
Red Bull Racing’s form at this circuit in 2017 bodes well, with Verstappen qualifying second, though Ricciardo admitted he endured more mixed fortunes that need to be understood.
“Last year was strange — I think I was quickest in Friday practice and then Saturday was completely off the pace. Then [Verstappen] was in a way the man to beat the rest of the weekend.
“For sure we can be fast around here, we’ve just got to understand how to do it.”
With his Renault switch looming at the end of the November and a string of technical retirements — ironically most of them Renault-triggered — preventing him from executing clean weekends, Ricciardo has been accused of allowed his focus to lapse in frustration.
But Daniel insists this isn’t the case, saying he has no trouble with self-motivation.
“It’s just mechanical coincidences, which is part of the reason why I really sometimes don’t like this sport,” he admitted, though added, “But I’m still getting paid to race a car and I’m still in a cool city like Austin … so even a really bad day is not that bad.
“It’s perspective, I think. I don’t know if it’s easy for other drivers, but for me I feel like it’s easy because if I won in Austin, I’m motivated to use that momentum and win again in Mexico.
“If I have the result I had in Austin, which was obviously bad, I’m motivated to try and do better and to get the podium maybe I lost in Austin, to try to get it back in Mexico.
“I was fed up on Sunday, but by Monday I woke up and was already feeling a bit better. It doesn’t last too long now, that frustration, which is good.
“Even just picturing myself here on the podium would be enough motivation. I also don’t want to leave the team like this. I don’t want to leave on a negative.
“Really that’s all the motivation I need right now, and I’ll just apply myself and hope that everything works come Sunday. Hopefully by 60-odd laps or something it’s looking good.”