Outside of the dominance of Mercedes, one of the emerging storylines of 2014 was the arrival of Daniel Ricciardo to the top-tier of Formula One. It became a season that started with the Australian being a foil to Sebastian Vettel, and ended with him becoming the de facto Red Bull team leader.
That’s quite a year.
It was a season of maximising opportunities. Despite the initial joy of finishing on the podium in Australia, that was taken away from him thanks to a fuel-pump infringement. The thread of bad luck continued into Malaysia when he retired from the race, and collected a 10-place grid penalty for Bahrain thanks to an unsafe pit release. Many thought the bad luck Mark Webber suffered in his Red Bull career had immediately transferred to his compatriot.
Yet it was in Bahrain that we saw the first glimpses of the fighting spirit that we would associate with Ricciardo’s driving style. Despite starting way down in 13th place, by the end of the race he was less than a second away from sharing the rose water with the Mercedes duo.
The aggression continued, and became infused with a swashbuckling style of overtaking that seemed lost in the past. In contributed to his three grand prix victories in some style – the maiden win in Canada was initiated thanks to some brave overtaking on Sergio Perez further back to manoeuvre into a position to take Nico Rosberg towards the end of the race.
But not only was it a year of success and celebration, it should be noted it was also another phase of progression for the 25-year-old.
In a way, his career path displays the trajectory it should, a way into the sport – helped by money, naturally – that all young drivers should take to gain experience and know-how. Friday test driver with Toro Rosso led to a baptism on track with minnows HRT. A seat in the midfield with Red Bull’s junior squad came in 2012, and the promotion to Red Bull came two years later. Back marker, to midfield, to front-runner in the space of three seasons. It’s the racing driver dream.
And now it moves onto the next part – being a team leader. Probably one of the surprising aspects of all the 2014 success is the fact Sebastian Vettel – a four-time World Champion no less – was made to look, quite frankly, incredibly ordinary. Despite the insistence of team orders early on by the German, that quickly subsided, and by October he was out of the team he had been such a pillar in establishing.
Not that the team won’t be in safe hands with the Australian at the forefront, but the speed in which he’s moved from new guy at the team, to the clear number one, has been astounding. He still has to face the difficult second season with a front running team, but if anything, 2014 has shown that Daniel Ricciardo can handle anything in his path with that great big smile on his face.
Daniel Ricciardo has been a breath of fresh air into Formula One in 2014 and it’s been a joy to watch unfold. We’re seeing the emergence of a driver into the modern age, a driver with humour and humility and a love of what he does. And we’re starting to love him for what he is, which is just as equally awesome.