Daniel Ricciardo has the biggest smile in F1 and, after the performance of several mid-field teams last weekend at Silverstone, there is an air of purpose to the cheesy grin as he returns for the second of the Silverstone double-headers.
Without branding it as smug, Ricciardo has an air of confidence as he knows both the Renault team he is driving for this year and the McLaren team he is moving to next year are both on the rise, whereas the Ferrari team everyone expected him to sign for remains, by its own admission, two years away from challenging the front runners.
As countryman Mark Webber described it early this year, Danny Ric has “dodged a bullet” by not going to Ferrari and never was this more evident than in last Sunday’s British Grand Prix.
“I feel that any team now can be the-third best team on the grid,” he say, reflecting on a strong weekend which saw him enjoy his fifth consecutive British Grand Prix in the points.
After qualifying eighth, he finished fourth after a late battle with the McLarens of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris while his teammate, Esteban Ocon, finished sixth to make it Renault’s best result since Monza last year.
Ricciardo now believes Renault can finish ‘best of the rest’ behind Mercedes and Red Bull for the title and ahead of Ferrari, Racing Point and McLaren and the rest. It currently lies sixth with McLaren third, Ferrari fourth and Racing Point fifth.
“It’s great for us to be in the battle with Ferrari, McLaren and Racing Point,” Ricciardo says.
“You’re not just fighting over one position in the Constructors’ Championship, third is still there. We need more weekends like last Sunday and I think capitalising on a weekend like that is important.
“We need to take every opportunity if we want to fight for third this year.”
While Sebastian Vettel endured another horror weekend for Ferrari, qualifying and finishing 10th, Charles Leclerc managed to drag his car onto the podium after the late-race tyre blowouts for the dominant Mercedes-Benzes of Valtteri Bottas and Sainz in the McLaren.
However, Ricciardo was chasing the Ferrari for the final podium and finished just 1.1 seconds adrift, despite qualifying four places behind.
“I saw Charles getting closer and maybe with a couple more laps we could have had a podium but we have another chance this weekend.”
“We had really good speed and I think most Sundays this year, we feel like we’ve had a stronger race package than in qualifying.
“We need to start getting our Saturdays further up there because if we qualify top five or six, we can really race up the front all weekend, every weekend,” he says.
Playing the long game, Ricciardo can take comfort in where both his Renault team is going this year with recent updates last week helping the car gain pace at Silverstone and more updates arriving for Silverstone 2, as well as looking at the upswing of his next team, McLaren.
Currently third, things can only improve as McLaren switches to the all-concurring Mercedes power for 2021 when he’ll be in the seat vacated by the Ferrari-bound Sainz as teammate to Norris.
This weekend’s Grand Prix commemorates 70 years since the world championship began on May 13, 1950 which was won by Giuseppe Farina as he led home an Alfa Romeo clean sweep of the top three places.
The modern Alfa Romeo hasn’t scored a point in the past three races but, barring a miracle, it’s looking like the Anniversary race will still be a demonstration of dominance, as Mercedes seeks its fifth straight win with Hamilton chasing his eighth Silverstone victory.
Hamilton is clear of teammate Bottas by 30 points but don’t expect a cool Valtteri to be so easy on Hamilton through Turn One’s Abbey corner this time as the Finn has a fresh contract to stay with Mercedes until the end of 2022, extending his relationship with the team into a fifth season.
Last year, the delay in contract negotiations affected Valtteri’s mental approach and ultimately broke his early-season concentration.
Learning from this and with all the major players for 2021 locked in place – apart from Vettel – Benz boss Toto Wolff inked the deal asap, so we could see a new, relaxed and more confident Bottas this weekend.