April 6th, 2014 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Daniel Ricciardo might be just what Formula One fans have been waiting for - a team-mate who can challenge Sebastian Vettel on a consistent basis. He challenged, and beat, the four-time World Champion in the Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix, finishing fourth to Vettel's sixth despite starting behind Vettel on the grid.
The weekend was generally smoother for Ricciardo than Vettel. The reigning World Champion spun out of the third practice session, which cost him some preparation time for qualifying. Vettel then had a down-shifting problem in qualifying that prevented him from proceeding to Q3, while Ricciardo ended up third fastest in the final part of qualifying.
A grid penalty put Ricciardo back to 13th on the grid and elevated Vettel to tenth. In the race, Vettel had some problems, first with his DRS and then later reporting a loss of power at the end of the straights. Ricciardo had no such issues, but spent most of the race behind the established Red Bull team leader.
When the safety car came out following a dramatic accident for Esteban Gutierrez, Ricciardo positioned himself to attack Vettel at the restart. He passed his team-mate through turn four with a skillful manoeuvre and then set about attacking the cars ahead. Ricciardo made his way past Nico Hulkenber's ailing Force India without too much trouble and then chased after the third-placed Force India of Sergio Perez. At the end of the race, Ricciardo was within striking distance of Perez, but simply ran out of laps to make a move.
Vettel attempted to follow Ricciardo past Hulkenberg, but to no avail. Despite a harvesting problem on his Force India, Hulkenberg managed to keep Vettel behind until the end of the race.
Perhaps the most interesting Red Bull-related incident of the race occurred when Ricciardo came up behind Vettel in the first half of the race. Ricciardo was easily the faster Red Bull driver at that point and, in a demonstration that Vettel should not expect favouritism from his team, Vettel was told to move over and let Ricciardo through. Vettel obliged and Ricciardo pulled away.
Vettel's technical issues were certainly a factor in the team's result. It's likely that he could have been a bit quicker through the race had he not suffered some problems. But Ricciardo's pass after the safety car showed his intent. Ricciardo intends to win races for Red Bull. That means he has to beat everyone else, Vettel included. He sees no reason to defer to Vettel just because he is a four-time World Champion.
The rest of the season should provide an interesting battle of the team-mates at Red Bull. Vettel is not to be underestimated. He is, after all, already one of the greats in Formula 1 history despite having a few years to go to his thirtieth birthday. But Ricciardo is quick, and has shown his determination. It promises to be a fascinating season.
Here's what the Red Bull drivers had to say after the Bahrain Grand Prix:
Daniel Ricciardo: "It was an awesome race; it was exciting. I think the first stint was a bit follow-the-leader, but from the second stint onwards, the race really started to turn up the heat and there were more battles going on in front and behind – it was good to be a part of them. We got close to the podium today, I think within half a second, so I was doing all I could.
"The car came to me as the race went on and I was happy with how I moved up through the pack, so a good day. It was good fun to race Sebastian, it was hard but fair and we left each other room. That's what we want from each other and we discussed it beforehand, we're racers and that's what we enjoy doing."
Sebastian Vettel: "I think it was a busy race today, especially at the end after the safety car, but it's a shame we couldn't get further up," he said. "Daniel proved that there was a little bit more to get from the car today, I couldn't really get to that bit, so I'm not so happy with my day. For some reason we seemed to be really slow on the straights, and not just against the Mercedes. Merc has a stronger package, so there's work ahead of us. It was straight forward with Daniel today, we worked well together as a team and we raced well, but surely I would like to have finished higher up."