Christian Horner heaped more praise on Red Bull new boy Daniel Ricciardo after the Australian battled through from 13th on the grid to claim fourth place at the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Dumped ten places down from his qualifying result on Saturday, having carried a penalty over from last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix, Ricciardo had a job on his hands but after a steady opening stint, set about picking off the cars ahead of him – including four-time world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who had opted to start on the harder compound tyre and was instructed to move over after running more slowly than the Australian.
The final stint of the race was even better for Ricciardo, who picked up seven places in the final ten laps – including again picking off Vettel on equal terms – before closing on Sergio Perez, who only just managed to hold the Red Bull off on the run to the line, despite his Mercedes engine having a marked advantage over the Australians Renault.
“I think he's been brilliant,” Horner told Crash.net
, “From first free practice in Australia, he's been right there. He's driving extremely well, he's enjoying it, and he's always got a smile on his face, whether it's good or bad. Anyone who had any question marks over his ability to move forward through the field, I think he's demonstrated that he's right up there with the best. Some of his moves, around the outside or inside....”
With question marks surrounding the team's decision to promote Ricciardo to replace the departing Mark Webber, Horner admitted that it had perhaps needed hard evidence to convince the sceptics that he was the right choice.
“I think it demonstrates how difficult it is sometimes to judge drivers in inferior equipment, because he's grabbed his opportunity and he's really making the most of it,” he reasoned, “Sometimes, obviously, equipment does mask the potential of these guys - we knew he was good through what we'd seen from the testing he did with us, in the simulator running he'd done with us... How good we weren't quite sure, but he's demonstrated that he's absolutely top drawer.”
With the acrimony between Webber and Vettel still a lingering memory, and just over year removed from the 'Multi21' saga in Malaysia, the sight of Ricciardo passing Vettel was something Horner was sure to be asked about.
“That was teamwork as it should be,” he claimed, “Both were on different strategies, something we'd talked about prior to the race, and both were totally co-operative about where they worked together. Sebastian said 'I'll let him through at turn eleven', sacrificing as little speed as possible and leaving Daniel to get on with his race.
“Of course, it switched through the pit-stops, back again, and they were free to race over the last sector of the race. Sebastian reported that he was down on straight-line speed, so we need to have a look at that, but take nothing away from Daniel and some of his passing manoeuvres today against some tough opposition - Kimi, Fernando, Jenson.... He's done a really impressive job.”