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GP Week : Issue 200
18 GPWEEK.com // 18 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: What was heading towards being a rather predictable, albeit impressive, Mercedes 1-2 in shanghai suddenly came to life when the bright yellow nose of Daniel Ricciardo's Red Bull started to loom large, rather quickly, in sebastian Vettel's rear vision mirrors. After a tardy start, the Aussie had run a few seconds behind his world champion team-mate, and then fallen further away when extending his time on fast-degrading Softs to three laps further. But now, as lap 25 approached, with both on Mediums, the gap was shrinking ... rapidly. Ricciardo raced up behind Vettel and, a lap later, there it was again: "Sebastian, let Daniel through please, he is faster than you." Seb wasn't going to take it on face value, so enquired "what tyres is he on," to which the team responded with "Primes (Mediums) – same as you ..." Aha! "Tough luck," came the instant retort from Vettel, suggesting that no, he wasn't going to make way for someone on the same set-up! The rest of the radio chat wasn't broadcast, but somehow they (if we believe the team) managed to convince Vettel that his team- mate was on a 'different' strategy.' Different? Three laps fresher Mediums? Anyway, Daniel was all over him and threw it down the inside at Turn 1. It wasn't a pull-over-and-go-through from Vettel, but he did at least give room. And Daniel drove off into the distance. “Iamnotsureifherandeepor gave me a bit of room, but I managed to get by,” said the Australian. Imagine what must be going on inside the Vettel cranium – having just got rid of one Aussie pain-in-the-arse, he's inherited another one, a nice guy who smiles all the time, who's handing him his arse on a plate! Forgive me if I tell you that there seem to be people loving this! Even ex-champion Alan Jones, the comments man on the Australian coverage, was chuckling away as he admitted he thought Daniel would take a few months to settle in and get onto terms with Vettel and his new team .. and was happy to be wrong! The post-race comments and press releases are what suggests to me that this is going to boil along. Amid all the team denials; that Sebastian hadn't refused to move over once he'd "understood" that Daniel was on "a different strategy", Vettel's own comments are revealing and included: " ... onceIwastoldwewereon different strategies I decided to let him go." That's 'I' decided to let him go. Not, "I did what the team asked," but "I decided ..." If Christian Horner believes that that's how strategy is decided in any other serious team – ie by the teacher's pet – then Red Bull is going to have an increasing problem, both strategically and PR-wise to deal with. Red Bull's man-on-the-ground, Dr Marko, finds himself in an interesting position. A vehement and influential weapon on the Vettel side of the garage when Mark Webber was there, he now has a second product of his Red Bull young driver programme on the scene – and perhaps has to be more impartial. Intriguing. The time between this race and Barcelon, in two and a half weeks, will possibly be introspective for the world champion. Did he win all those races because he had such a dominant car and a team-mate approaching the end of his career? Is Daniel really just ... faster? I don't buy the soft comments from the team and some commentators that Seb isn't 'feeling' or 'bonding' with the new-tech cars as well as his new team mate. Mate, you're a four- time champion – if you can't adapt as well as anyone to something a bit new, then who can? I take my hat off to Daniel Ricciardo. Along with Mercedes' domination, he is the story of the year so far. Deceptively seemingly laid-back, always smiling ... fantastically diplomatic approach – yet providing an 'issue' Red Bull never thought it was going to have to deal with. And , in order to get their established driver to play the team game, they virtually had to con him into believing his pursuer was on a 'different' strategy. Amazing. See what I mean? The show is, I reckon, just beginning. ROLL UP FOLKS, IT'S SHOWTIME! OPINION OPINION CHRIS LAMBDEN