F1 Racing (UK) - - INSIDER - An­drew Ben­son

Max Ver­stap­pen and Daniel Ric­cia­rdo are in­cred­i­bly closely matched as team-mates. In terms of race re­sults, there wasn’t much to sep­a­rate them in 2017: Ver­stap­pen’s two wins beat Ric­cia­rdo’s one, but Ric­cia­rdo had eight other podi­ums, Ver­stap­pen only two, and Ver­stap­pen re­tired seven times and Ric­cia­rdo six. Dan fin­ished 32 points ahead in the cham­pi­onship.

In qual­i­fy­ing, while the record ap­pears skewed in Ver­stap­pen’s favour, it’s in­cred­i­bly close on pure pace.

Ver­stap­pen’s edge is an av­er­age of only 0.03 sec­onds over 20 races; it’s just 0.015secs if you take out Baku, where Ric­cia­rdo crashed in fi­nal qual­i­fy­ing and didn’t set a time.

“Max im­proved this year,” ad­mits Ric­cia­rdo. “Qual­i­fy­ing shows that. His Satur­days were cer­tainly good. Our Sun­days – he’s had two wins and I’ve had one, but gen­er­ally my Sun­days have been good, the rac­ing and the race­craft. But the Satur­days I wouldn’t say I was happy with my­self al­ways, and he also im­proved.”

Ver­stap­pen at­tributes much of his up­turn in per­for­mance to his ex­tra ex­pe­ri­ence, but some also to his pref­er­ence for 2017’s faster, grip­pier cars over their pre­de­ces­sors.

“I like this kind of car a bit more,” he says. “You can be a bit more ag­gres­sive and that’s what I like. Last year [2016] was very tricky and sen­si­tive to front (brake) lock­ing and stuff. This year you can go a lot faster into the cor­ners and that helped me.”

To­gether, they make what many reckon to be F1’s strong­est driver pair­ing and Ver­stap­pen’s value to Red Bull can be mea­sured by the salary in his new con­tract. He’s now the third best-paid driver in F1 be­hind Lewis Hamilton and Se­bas­tian Vet­tel, on some­where be­tween £18-26m per sea­son.

But how long can the in­evitable com­pet­i­tive edge be­tween these two out­wardly friendly ‘big cats’ be con­tained?

For now, at least, Ver­stap­pen is op­ti­mistic: “Dan’s a great guy. On-track you al­ways try to beat each other but off-track we can have a great laugh. I’ve never re­ally ex­pe­ri­enced some­thing like that in rac­ing, to have such a good team-mate, to re­ally have fun with. I hope we can be team-mates for a long time.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.