Ricciardo has always been a tremendous qualifier. With Vergne as his teammate the gap he managed to pull over the Frenchman on Saturdays always gave the distinct impression of the Aussie out-pacing the car, as did heroic laps in Bahrain in 2012, or Silverstone in 2013. For Red Bull, from the outset in his breakthrough 2014 campaign, Ricciardo was tenacious, versatile and fiercely committed in qualifying, and looked to be on pole for a few seconds in Melbourne 2014 but for a last gasp lap from Lewis Hamilton. And only two weeks ago, when seemingly under immense pressure from the incoming teenager, Ricciardo responded as only a great qualifier can, and went more than four tenths clear of Verstappen with his final run.
Ricciardo was a man that, up until Saturday, was overdue a pole position. He ended that wait with a stellar performance, amid arguably the most competitive weekend of the V6 era so far, with three different teams heading each of the three practice sessions. His pole lap of a 1’13.622 was a stunning display of the style and approach Daniel has finessed to become one of the out-and-out fastest drivers in F1. So what are the tricks of Ricciardo’s trade? Where does he find his speed?
Ever since he signed with Red Bull, he has had a car capable of some of the highest lateral loadings on the grid. But downforce is superfluous without a driver capable of exploiting it, and Ricciardo shows a level of commitment on corner entry probably only comparable with Lewis Hamilton. However Pastor Maldonado was committed, Ricciardo is exceptional in the way he meticulously partners his commitment to the racetrack with pinpoint accuracy; small wonder then he put in masterful performances in Monaco and Singapore in recent years.
In this lap Ricciardo wrote the headlines up against the barriers of Tabac and the swimming-pool chicane, but probably gained more time with a textbook approach to Rascasse and Antony Noghes. Always on the geometrically optimal line, always with the perfect amount of throttle applied. His approach to the Nouvelle Chicane is similarly blueprint; late on the brakes, but with an early rotation around the inside of the barrier to generate a straighter, cleaner exit. Nouvelle is generally where even pole laps leave time on the table given the hazard on the bump on tunnel exit, but on this occasion, as with almost all of the lap, Ricciardo barely leaves any time on the table.
Overall, what strikes me about Ricciardo’s stylistic approach to this lap is its evocative resemblance to Michael Schumacher. The attitude of the car under load, the delicate, minimal steering inputs and the way Ricciardo builds tension in the steering rack as he chases the throttle in the slow-speed corners is all classic Schumacher. Michael’s ability to team utter commitment to the Monaco circuit, with being conscious not to unsettle the car across the bumps, curbs and dips, saw Schumacher fiercely competitive in almost each and every visit to the Principality. In what would be his final visit to Monaco in 2012, Schumacher set the fastest lap in qualifying (but would not start on pole due to a grid penalty), proving that his affinity with the circuit had not been dulled by age. Check out that lap below:
The parallels with Ricciardo in slow-speed corners especially are clear to see. With Red Bull, Daniel has been an emerging Monaco master: uncomfortably close to Mercedes in qualifying in 2014, an impressive P4 on Saturday in 2015 and the victor in all but name in 2016; it was a pole lap that, for me, was a fitting tribute to one of the established Monaco greats.
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