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GP Week : Issue 197
17 GPWEEK.com // 17 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: While Nico Rosberg emerged victorious from the first race of the 2014 Formula One season, the real winner of the Australian Grand Prix weekend was Daniel Ricciardo, the man with the million-dollar smile – despite the shattering post-race disqualification. Whatever issues Sebastian Vettel suffered thanks to mechanical problems not of his own making, Ricciardo’s front row start in qualifying – with the ever-dominant defending world champion failing tomakeitoutofQ2–wasan important psychological victory for the freshly-promoted Red Bull junior. To follow up his impressive performance on Saturday with a Sunday drive that was calm and measured, will have done rather more than just give Ricciardo a spring in his step. The honey badger’s trademark grin was audible in his post-race radio communications with the team. And in the post-race press conference, Perth’s newly-minted racing hero (and the first Australian to claim a Formula One podium at Albert Park) couldn’t stop pinching himself, acknowledging that to start the season with a podium finish had been beyond his wildest dreams three short weeks ago. We shall have to wait several more races before making any dramatic pronouncements regarding Ricciardo’s dramatic devastation of his four-time world champion teammate, as Vettel’s early retirement means we have no idea whether or not the German would have been able to work his way up through the field on Sunday afternoon, as he did in such memorable fashion in Abu Dhabi in 2012. But there is no denying that this is the first time in years that Vettel will be arriving at the second race of the season just a little behind his teammate – at least psychologically. For a short while it would also have been with a significant points deficit! When one is used to being on top, it becomes slightly harder to deal with life’s little setbacks, and Vettel is no less human (or vulnerable) than the rest of us. He’s just a lot faster behind the wheel of a racing car than we are. During pre-season testing in Jerez there were signs that all was not as it had been for the German wunderkind. Rumours of a recent new arrival to his family were all but confirmed at the end of the first day of running, when Vettel was spotted leaving the paddock as night began to fall. At the end of his second day behind the wheel, Vettel returned home. While such behaviour is not unusual in a Formula One driver, many of whom will do their duty during tests before heading off to complete sponsor commitments or simply to enjoy a few days with friends and family before the season kicks off in earnest, it was out of character for Vettel. One of the factors in Vettel’s long period of F1 dominance was his refusal to rely on his natural talent. Instead, one of the most prodigiously talented men in F1 history was also one of the hardest working. Seb was often found in the paddock late into the night, poring over data with his engineers and watching replays of sessions to try and find those milliseconds of improvement that could make a difference in both qualies and the race. So to see the paddock’s number one swot call it quits while there was still a sliver of daylight in the sky was an odd sight made all the more unusual when viewed in the context of the RB10’s evident struggles. Instead it was young Ricciardo who could be seen hanging around the garage at all hours, giving his feedback while absorbing all that he could. If Ricciardo is going to take any leaf out of Vettel’s playbook, the committed long-hours approach is the one to take. And if the Australian Grand Prix weekend was anything to go by, it appears to have worked. It’s far too early to talk of one-upmanship in the internecine teammate wars, but Daniel managed to land the first blow by using one of his opponent’s signature manoeuvres. Well played. RED BULLS-EYE OPINION OPINION KATE WALKER