has played the team game with Ricciardo
– for example, letting him past in
Germany. With a World Championship at
stake, a top driver’s ruthlessness would
rather collide than give up a place.
Today, Ricciardo is still the better bet to
win a championship; certainly, his bad
days will be far better than his
teammate’s, even if their good days are
the same. Tomorrow, it’s harder to judge.
It might just be that Red Bull has the
“nightmare” scenario of two equally
potent title forces.
Verstappen is a combative character, but
the perception of Ricciardo as a comedian
with a perma-grin belies his inner steel.
He’s proved himself to be one of the most
incisive passers on the grid in recent years,
and he knows how to win. This year, he’s
been willing to voice his impatience at the
lack of a title-challenging car. He knows he
has to get on with it, and wants to avoid
being cast as a support act to a Red Bull
young gun, like compatriot Mark Webber
was. For Verstappen’s hopes of
galvanizing the team around him,
Ricciardo is the smiling assassin.
As for Verstappen, the ructions caused
at Toro Rosso by the division between his
side of the garage and teammate Carlos
Sainz Jr.’s were having a detrimental effect
on the team. Even bringing in no-nonsense
former Manor team principal John Booth
on a consultancy basis as director of
racing couldn’t get that under control.
The cracks were starting to become very
clear to the outside world just before
Verstappen was promoted, and Ricciardo
still has plenty of friends in Toro Rosso,
so he knows the score.
What will decide this impasse will be
events on the track. Ricciardo and
Verstappen are capable of very similar,
stellar levels of performance. The way
they deliver it is very different.
Verstappen is the more aggressive, prone
to attacking, then edging back from the
limit. Ricciardo is more of a classicist, with
a smooth approach based on momentum
that allows him to get up to speed very
quickly and manage the tires well.
The curveball is the change of cars
next year. The increase in downforce and
an improvement in lap times of around
four seconds could favor either, but
Ricciardo’s experience might be telling.
Conversely, the extra grip could sit well
with Verstappen’s attacking approach.
Again, there’s nothing to split them.
If you were Horner, waiting to send
those two into a battle for the Formula 1
Drivers’ World Championship in 2017,
you’d probably be thrilled and terrified
in equal measure. And that can only be
a good thing for F1...
Red Bull Racing’s
main protagonist in
2016 has been
(LEFT). Next year,
says RBR vs. all-conquering Mercedes
could be on the cards.
“[Criticism] doesn’t change
a lot. I will drive the same
as before, because there is
nothing wrong with it”
(ABOVE) Daniel Ricciardo’s toothy grin was in short supply
during a difficult early-summer streak. Come late summer,
thanks to three consecutive podiums, it’s definitely returned.