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Sorry, but Daniel Ricciardo is not going to be 2014 world champion

Despite a few insistent claims to the contrary, the Australian’s chances of this year’s crown are highly remote
Monday, August 18, 2014

August 17, 2014 (F1plus/Graham Keilloh).- Something strange is happening. Something that I keep encountering.

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Well it’s not so much a thing as an idea. That Daniel Ricciardo has a chance at this year’s world drivers’ championship; that the two Merc pilots are under threat from Danny Ric sneaking up on the blind side; that the Red Bull driver may yet pip them at the post.

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Perhaps – now that we’re in holiday time – some have been getting a bit too much sun while on the beach. But whatever is the case it’s not clear what the concept is based on. I’m afraid that even a small application of scrutiny reveals that it does not look at all a goer.

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I first noted the chat sometime around the start of the summer break. Just murmurings in the wind at first. But it then seemed to solidify. For example on Sky’s F1 Show an audience member asked the gathered panel: “with Ricciardo only a couple of race wins away from joining the championship battle shouldn’t Mercedes get behind Lewis Hamilton…and ensure Mercedes win the drivers’ championship?” before going on to describe Ricciardo as “a dark horse”.

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Then a week or so later the usually-excellent Ted Kravitz on the same channel said similar: “The drivers’ championship is going to go right down to the wire and now they’ve (the two Mercedes drivers) got Daniel Ricciardo coming up behind them” he claimed.

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Of course, those with broadcasting rights to the sport have an interest in, erm, creative interpretation to the end of suggesting the championship fight is more in the balance than it actually is, but plenty of fans it seems have got in on the act too. It’s a crude measure I know, but on the same day as Kravitz said what he did the BBC’s Jennie Gow asked on Twitter what F1 fans were most looking forward to in the remaining part of the season, and the prospect of Ricciardo pinching title honours was mentioned as much as anything else.

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Of course Daniel Ricciardo has driven superbly this year, his consistent brilliance being a genuine surprise and a pleasant one. This game too likes to remind us regularly not to take too much for granted; not to rule too much out. And I don’t take pleasure in acting the Cassandra, particularly in the case of the popular and talented Aussie. But no, there’s virtually no chance of a 2014 title for him.

First careers victory for Riccirado came in Canada, followed by a superb one at Hungaroring. (LAT Phoot/Getty)

Take the 2014 crown from the Mercs will be hard.

This is because however hard we may wish it the numbers do not begin to back the prospect up. Whether those numbers are in the points table or – possibly more importantly – on the stopwatch.

Possibly part of the explanation for the persistence of this idea is that we entered the summer break on the back of a fine Ricciardo victory in Hungary. Being one with experience of working in the market research industry I am well aware of ‘recency effects’, and that the dramatic Hungaroring win is fresh in our memories may have led to a few giving it undue importance when seeking to project ahead.

But to borrow from Bob Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. And in 2014 the wind has been gale force at the Mercedes’s back. The silver cars’ pace advantage over the rest started big and since hasn’t really shown much sign of being diminished all things being equal.

In Hungary’s qualifying Nico Rosberg beat the best Red Bull time (set by Sebastian Vettel) by half a second, and this at a track supposed to suit the RB10 especially.

In Germany’s qualifying outcome the Merc to Bull difference was seven tenths (Ricciardo this time ahead), and come the race it looked even higher, with in the opening laps Rosberg running in the low 1m 22s, while Seb (albeit behind Valtteri Bottas but unlikely to have been going much quicker even if he wasn’t) routinely around a second a lap slower.

In the Silverstone race the gap was gargantuan: the two silver cars in the early laps capable of running routinely in the low 1m 39s at least as well as banged in plenty of 1m 38s. The rest – including both Red Bulls – at the same moment circulated at best in the 1m 41s…

And – fine though they were – neither of Ricciardo’s wins over the Mercs owed to pure pace. One relied on Merc mechanical woes and the other on rain and safety car variables.

I can hear a few (rightly) saying at this point that the Bulls’ record of in-season development – especially after the summer break – is an excellent one. But it would take something way beyond its very best of before to even get with Merc, let alone leap over them which is what it needs to do almost certainly if it wants to make the points gap to the Mercedes guys up.

Which brings me nicely to my second point. That even if the Red Bull was outpacing the Mercedes right now I’d still be reluctant to bet too much on a Ricciardo title. Simply because the points gap in the table remains chasm-like.

Perhaps showing the extent that some have got overexcited at the expense of logic on this matter Ted Kravitz in the same TV appearance as that mentioned said that Ricciardo is “20 or 30 points behind” the Mercs. Actually the gap is 60 to Lewis and 71 to Nico. But heck, what’s a 200% plus difference between friends?

There are eight rounds left, perhaps nine in effect with double points on offer in Abu Dhabi. So Ricciardo has to on average make up just shy of eight points per round. Which barring unusual occurrences translates to winning every time and some of the time having a car in between him and the leading Merc (perhaps a Red Bull one-two?).

OK, Mercedes has had its reliability problems this year, but so lest we forget has Red Bull, though thus far it’s tended to afflict Ricciardo’s team mate Sebastian Vettel exclusively. And an overarching disadvantage of being the one chasing from far back is that you really can’t afford even a single dose of bad luck or mistakes yourself.

Bear in mind too that our next two rounds are on fast tracks that – even by Christian Horner’s admission – Red Bull isn’t expected to figure a great deal. It doesn’t seem too unreasonable to envisage that Ricciardo’s points deficit could after those be in the region of 100 with just seven (still counting Abu Dhabi as two) left.

Another advantage Mercedes has in the drivers’ title chase is that there are two of them up there, which in effect acts as insurance. For all that the matter is wrestled with, this is a boon of letting your two drivers races; of not ‘backing’ one over the other.

If one Brackley pilot implodes then it’ll be the other – long before we get to Ricciardo – that stands to benefit. And if one Mercedes driver getting a run of egregious luck or otherwise imploding may have long odds, for it to happen to both of them you can multiply those odds together.

Even if we are to get into highly fanciful territory and say –minded no doubt of the intra-Merc battle developing something of an edge in recent times – what if the two Mercedes take each other out a couple of times?

Well, history indicates it’s not that likely. Even Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost in three seasons competing tete-a-tete for championships in the most furious rivalry the sport has ever known only collided twice in all of that time, at least one of which was deliberate, and only that one took them both out too (indeed, Jo Ramirez has pointed out that in the 1989 contretemps Prost’s greatest error was in not after the collision engaging first gear and continuing to an easy win…). Michael Schumacher and Damon Hill taking each other out twice in the 1995 season remains an outlier.

And even if it was to happen twice with the Mercs in the remaining rounds of this campaign, and even if Riccardo was to take maximum advantage both times, if would still only get him within striking distance (unless – in an extreme best case scenario for the Australian – one of the times is in Abu Dhabi in which case he’d only lead by a projected four points). He’d still have to gain points otherwise and probably do it without an inherent pace advantage.

So as I said this idea doesn’t at all seem like much of a goer. However wonderful a tale it would no doubt be if Daniel Ricciardo was to achieve otherwise, the vast probability is that the F1 drivers’ world champion this year will be one in silver.

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