Daniel Ricciardo has admitted that, while the Singapore Grand Prix rates among the finest of his short F1 career, having to hold off fellow Australian Mark Webber in the closing stages - and succeeding - only made it better.
The Toro Rosso driver has struggled for points in 2012, when he was confirmed in an inexperienced line-up with Jean-Eric Vergne, but his results have picked up in the last couple of rounds, with ninth-place finishes in both Belgium and Singapore to add to a similar opening round performance on home soil, and only being pipped for a point in Italy when his car failed on the final lap. While his six-point haul for the season has been symptomatic of Toro Rosso's struggle to repeat its late 2011 form, when it battled Sauber and Force India for sixth overall, Ricciardo was still able to draw satisfaction from his latest outing, in which he was mixing it with some of the sport's bigger names in the closing stages.
"It's a satisfying one, I think, because this place is very demanding.," he told Melbourne's Age newspaper in the days after the Singapore race, "It's definitely the most challenging race of the year, I believe, so it's good to finish strongly and feel good at the end of it. That's already a small result in a way, a result for all the training we put in, and obviously the ninth place is pretty sweet.
"Since the [summer] break, we've got ninth at Spa and came very close to getting tenth at Monza and now some more points, so the second half of the season is definitely looking nice at the moment. [Singapore] would be up there [among the best race of the season]. I think, in a way, it was the most challenging because I didn't feel we had a very quick car today, but we dug deep and made it work. So I would say it was probably my most gutsy drive of the season.
"I think, in a way, survival [was the key]. There's always been at least one safety car here, so particularly, in the first stint, we weren't quick at all. We still decided to stay on our [two-stop] strategy, but our pace was pretty average at best, so I just knew that it was a long race and anything can happen. With a new set of tyres after the pit-stop, the balance can turn around. We made a wing adjustment and a few little things you can do during the race and I would say that the car improved as the race went on. It still wasn't easy to drive, but then the safety car came out and the rest of it, and I knew we had a proper shot at holding on.
"I think, in the second stint, it was really positive, especially defending against [Sergio] Perez. I realised that we didn't really need to be the quickest – as long as we had track position, we were in the hunt, and then the safety car played in nicely. The end [of the race] was nice. Mark [Webber] kept me honest, [as had Bruno Senna and [Felipe] Massa a few laps earlier. Unfortunately, I couldn't hold on to Massa, but the other guys, I was pretty pleased to hold off."
For several years touted as the natural successor to Webber, particularly as being a part of the Red Bull talent stable could land him in his countryman's seat at the drinks brand's title-winning team, battling with the nine-time grand prix winner was particular buzz.
"It's a little bonus," he smiled, "Obviously, his lap times before he caught me were very strong and I wasn't sure how easily I'd be able to hold him off, or how easily he'd be able to get past me, but I knew that there are only a few passing opportunities around this track and I knew, if I just nailed those places every lap, just tried to hit my lines well, it'd make life a little more difficult for him. I was pleased to cross the line in ninth, let's put it that way. As I said, it was a good relief to finish the most physical race of the year strong. That was a good feeling."
Ricciardo has yet to be confirmed for next season, and Toro Rosso's recent modus operandi has been to keep its drivers in the dark, but he admits that racking up results like those in the past few races can only help his cause.
"It doesn't hurt," he conceded, "Every time I get points it's good and particularly with this team. It hasn't been easy to crack the top ten at the best of times, so every point helps – and to get two is a mini-podium, in a way.
"If I can keep a few more of these results coming, I think [I'll be in F1 in 2013]. It's definitely on the right path to secure a seat. It isn't a podium but, realistically, it's good. I still want to keep improving. I wasn't particularly happy with qualifying [in Singapore], to be honest. I still want to get that perfect, perfect weekend, but this was definitely one of the ones that came close."