Ric­cia­rdo says team is ready to top­ple the cham­pi­ons

Motor Sport News - - Front Page - By Rob Lad­brook

Daniel Ric­cia­rdo be­lieves that Red Bull Rac­ing is still ca­pa­ble of end­ing Mercedes’ cur­rent mo­nop­oly on grand prix wins be­fore the end of the sea­son af­ter an en­cour­ag­ing out­ing in Sin­ga­pore.

While Ros­berg’s Ma­rina Bay tri­umph stretched Mercedes’ un­beaten streak to 10 races, Ric­cia­rdo ran him close at the flag, fin­ish­ing just 0.5 sec­onds be­hind in his Re­nault/tag Heuer-pow­ered Red Bull, and beat­ing for­mer cham­pi­onship leader Lewis Hamil­ton in the process.

Red Bull’s RB12 chas­sis was ex­pected to shine in Sin­ga­pore due to the tight street cir­cuit plac­ing a pre­mium on han­dling and bal­ance over out­right power.

Ahead of the race, Ric­cia­rdo had high­lighted the Sin­ga­pore week­end as Red Bull’s best chance to fight for a sec­ond win of the year. De­spite nar­rowly miss­ing that tar­get, the Aus­tralian said he felt a vic­tory was still just around the cor­ner for the team.

The next race takes place in Malaysia, a cir­cuit no­to­ri­ous for its fickle weather. Ric­cia­rdo said any ex­ter­nal el­e­ment, such as rain, would play into Red Bull’s hands.

“Af­ter this race I got on the ra­dio to the team and said: ‘We will win this year’,” said Ric­cia­rdo.

“In the dry this [Sin­ga­pore] prob­a­bly was our best shot [at a win], but with some rain or some­thing we will have more chances. We’ll get a down­pour some­where and that’ll throw a few curved balls and we can mid­dle it and get the vic­tory we’re af­ter.

“I’m sit­ting here pretty happy be­cause I felt I did all I could – the per­fect race. If there was any­thing that could have been more per­fect it was the start, but Nico got off the line well. It looked like his race was near-per­fect too.

“But I could push for the whole race, which was good, and I knew I’d catch him at the end. So even if the track’s dif­fi­cult to over­take, it was nice to be able to push to the last lap and know I was at least putting some pres­sure on Nico and giv­ing the crowd a lit­tle bit of hope.

“But we will have other chances this year. We know at Suzuka we’re nor­mally com­pet­i­tive in the wet there. I feel we can do a good week­end if we get the most out of the car. I think to­day we still left a lit­tle bit on the ta­ble. We’ll try to find that lit­tle bit ex­tra, and then we’ll be close to fight­ing Merc.”

Red Bull has yet to beat Mercedes in a straight fight on-track this term. While Max Ver­stap­pen recorded the sole non-mercedes win of the sea­son in the Span­ish GP, it came af­ter both Mercedes crashed out on the first lap.

How­ever, Red Bull has be­come stronger as the year has pro­gressed, largely due to im­prove­ments with its TAG-branded Re­nault en­gine. Red Bull has leapfrogged Fer­rari to sit sec­ond in the Con­struc­tors’ Cham­pi­onship, and is now Mercedes’ big­gest threat.

Red Bull team head Chris­tian Horner said he was en­cour­aged by

the di­min­ish­ing gap be­tween his squad and the Sil­ver Ar­rows.

“We got pretty close to­day, to be 0.5s be­hind af­ter two hours is a great ef­fort, and we beat one of the Mercedes fair and square,” said Horner. “Hope­fully the chances [for a win] will present them­selves over the next six races, but Mercedes has been strong at ev­ery venue, so it could be that we rely on some­thing dif­fer­ent hap­pen­ing – weather, con­di­tions, tyre degra­da­tion, some­thing like that.

“But we know there are some cir­cuits com­ing up which should suit more the char­ac­ter­is­tics of our car. Sin­ga­pore, Malaysia, Ja­pan, Mex­ico are the­o­ret­i­cally all tracks which should be rea­son­able for us.”

At­tack in 2017?

Horner said Red Bull had al­ready de­ter­mined its fi­nal 2016 up­grade path, with his squad now switch­ing full-time de­vel­op­ment fo­cus over to the new 2017 chal­lenger.

With a raft of new rules com­ing in for next sea­son – in­clud­ing the widen­ing of car body­work, tyres and more pow­er­ful en­gines – Red Bull can only push so hard for the re­main­der of this term, and in­stead hopes to catch Mercedes out by gain­ing a stronger start­ing point for next year.

“We had a few lit­tle bits and pieces for the car in Sin­ga­pore, and there will be a few more for the later races, but the fac­tory is now fo­cused on 2017,” said Horner.

Red Bull’s mo­tor­sport ad­vi­sor Hel­mut Marko added that work to­ward a strong base for next sea­son was al­ready well un­der­way.

“We are on sched­ule,” he said. “The num­bers that the en­gi­neers are find­ing look very good – of course the track will give the fi­nal an­swer. But our clear ob­jec­tive is to beat Mercedes, next year’s num­bers bet­ter be good!

“But we think we are ready [to fight for the ti­tle] next year. We’ve al­ways done well when there is a reg­u­la­tions change that doesn’t only fo­cus on the en­gine. And work on our en­gine is de­vel­op­ing in the right di­rec­tion. So, in 2017 we should be within around 15bhp [of Mercedes], and this we can com­pen­sate for. So our aim is to chal­lenge Mercedes next sea­son.”

Ver­stap­pen the key?

Red Bull also en­ters next sea­son with two of the hottest prop­er­ties in grand prix rac­ing un­der its wing.

With Ric­cia­rdo and Ver­stap­pen both signed to long-term deals, it has two po­ten­tial cham­pi­ons.

Marko said he ex­pects big things from teenage sen­sa­tion Ver­stap­pen, de­spite his stout de­fen­sive driv­ing court­ing crit­i­cism of late.

Marko said: “Max is a dif­fer­ent cal­i­bre. He has the traits of a fu­ture world cham­pion and he is do­ing just what is nec­es­sary to get there. It sur­prises some that this in­volves over­tak­ing and de­fend­ing.

“It is a bit like when Michael Schu­macher came in. I re­mem­ber Hock­en­heim when there was nearly a fight be­tween him and Ayr­ton Senna – Senna the top dog at the time and Schu­macher the new hope­ful.

“But we are Red Bull. We en­cour­age Max to speak his mind. Here is some­body who is re­ally young with a strong idea of what he wants – and he is not shy of try­ing to get it, of try­ing to be suc­cess­ful. And the re­ac­tion of fans plays to his ad­van­tage. I would say he is prob­a­bly now the most pop­u­lar driver on the grid – world­wide.”

Ric­cia­rdo is con­vinced that Red Bull is on the cusp of a break­through af­ter last week­end

Wet weather could suit car

Ric­cia­rdo was able to get among the Mercs in Sin­ga­pore

Daniel Ric­cia­rdo (left) and Max Ver­stap­pen are both touted as fu­ture cham­pi­ons

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