Daniel Ricciardo hides a streak of raw determination behind his sunny smile and he is looking for ‘payback’ in tomorrow’s Monaco Grand Prix after missing out on a merited win in 2016. After demonstrating his and Red Bull’s superiority in Thursday’s practice sessions, he believes he has the car to deliver pole in today’s qualifying showdown. And from that, a chance to win.
Two years ago, in a dramatic finale, the big-smiling Australian’s Red Bull team bungled a late pit-stop which handed victory to Briton Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes — an experience that still irks and motivates Ricciardo. “I haven’t forgotten it for sure and it is still there to motivate me,” he said. “It’s the one that got away and I am still looking for some payback on that.”
After dominating opening practice on Thursday ahead of his Red Bull teammate Dutchman Max Verstappen, Ricciardo was keen to ensure his team remained clear and realistic about their goals. “I definitely expect all three big teams to be below 1min 12sec (in official qualifying) on Saturday — we set a benchmark and we have stated our intentions. We are here to try and win this race and to be the dominant team,” he said.
Ricciardo’s lap in 1:11.841 set a new outright lap record for the Monte Carlo circuit, which appears to suit perfectly Red Bull’s chassis and the pink-walled new ‘hyper-soft’ tyres. That car advantage, he believes, could be enough to give them an advantage over both Ferrari and Mercedes when they turn up their engine modes to ‘qualifying’ levels today.
“Our gap from practice to qualifying isn’t normally as big as Ferrari and Mercedes. They will close that gap, definitely. But I feel that if we can put together a really good lap again, we have a chance for pole. And that’s my job for Saturday.”
Thirty years on from the weekend of Ayrton Senna’s celebrated 1988 pole lap for McLaren and 10 years on from Hamilton’s first victory in the Mediterranean principality, Red Bull appeared to be in the mood to smash records as the teams and drivers relaxed on Monaco’s traditional F1 ‘rest’ day yesterday.
Verstappen will be bidding to out-pace his teammate and the rest to become the youngest pole-sitter in F1 history, a record currently held by four-time champion Sebastian Vettel, who was third for Ferrari on Thursday.
Vettel claimed his pole for Toro Rosso in Italy in 2008 at 21 years and 73 days. Verstappen will not be 21 until September 30 and has a perfect opportunity. “To make a difference here compared to other drivers, they all think the same, so you have to risk a bit more between the walls,” said the Dutchman. “I haven’t changed and that is my way — to try to extract the most from the car and the track.”
Remarkably, Brazilian Senna’s lap in 1988 lifted him 1.4sec clear of his McLaren team-mate Frenchman Alain Prost on a day that has gone down in F1 folklore. Equally remarkably, to emphasise the speed for the modern breed of cars, Ricciardo’s lap on Thursday trimmed Senna’s lap time by 12sec. Such a gap seemed unimaginable in the past, but improved cars, track surfacing and tyres have made it possible and the Red Bull raced around Monte Carlo as if it was on rails. Hamilton, whose 2008 victory was the first by an Englishman at Monaco since Graham Hill in 1969, may lead the championship from Vettel by 17 points, but he recognises he faces a major challenge.
“We are not so far away as we feared we may be and we are not entirely lost or in the dark about what to do,” he said. “Let’s see what we can do.”
Hamilton was fourth behind Vettel on Thursday, six-tenths adrift of the pace, but he remained hopeful.
Ricciardo, however, and his Red Bull team will not be as helpful, or charitable, if they are leading tomorrow’s race, as they were in 2016. “Yeah, I am owed this one, I guess,” he laughed. “I don’t want to go through that again.”
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