RED BULL WE CAN BEAT MERCEDES
Ricciardo says team is ready to topple the champions
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.”