Daniel Ricciardo refuses to give up on the dream of snatching F1 world title glory from the battling Mercedes duo after capitalising on a clash between the Silver Arrows at the Belgian Grand Prix.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg led the opening lap of the race at Spa-Francorchamps, but a passing move by the German at Les Combes led to both suffering damage and, with Ricciardo steaming through from fifth on the grid to make the most of a mistake from Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel shortly afterwards, he found himself in a lead he would not lose.
More importantly, however, his third win of the year – coupled with Hamilton's failure to score points at a race where Mercedes was expected to dominate, has brought the Australian to within 35 points of his rival in the standings. With Rosberg only a further 29 ahead, and the Mercedes battle only likely to intensify over the remaining seven rounds, Ricciardo sees no reason to count himself out of the title race.
“If I'm within fifty [points] coming into Abu Dhabi then, yeah, [I'm in the hunt], but there's still a few races to go,” he reasoned, “While it's still mathematically possible, yeah, we'll keep fighting.
“Today was a big day for that. To come and steal some points on a circuit where, let's say, we weren't supposed to is nice, but I think what's important, looking ahead, is to capitalise on the circuits that we should be strong on and, if we can take maximum points, let's say, at a couple of those, then it's never over.
“I see good things ahead. If we can collect maximum points around here, y'know, it gives us a bit more hope for the circuits that are going to come later in the season: Singapore, Suzuka, just a couple to mention. We're really motivated right now. It's been a really good day for us on a track we didn't expect to get maximum points from so, yeah, it'll keep us smiling for a while.
“But at the same time, we'll stay grounded. Monza we know will be tricky again, but obviously the package we brought here was pretty racy, so we'll try and take something from here to Monza and then I think, as I said, Singapore and Suzuka will be pretty good for us.”
Ricciardo's third win of the year came in marked contrast to his first two, both of which were achieved with late race charges that only saw him lead for a handful of laps. In Belgium, however, he showed that he could set the pace and keep his head, even while Rosberg was hacking into his advantage at the end.
“It was definitely a bit different,” the Aussie conceded, “When you lead the race for that long, I guess it's more about composure, just looking at your lap times, just trying to be as consistent as possible. Once I heard Rosberg came in for a third stop, we knew he was going to be quick at the end, so I just had to try to keep the lap times up and keep it clean.
“The first thing obviously that you hope [is that] everything holds together. You hope, mechanically, everything gets you to the finish line. Then it's just trying to hit your marks and keep consistent, but always, [in] the last few laps, the chequered flag can't come quick enough.”
Passing the second row pairing of Fernando Alonso and RBR team-mate Vettel were key to setting up his victory, Red Bull's 50th in F1, according to Ricciardo, who is now 58 points clear of sixth-overall Vettel.
“In the first part of the race, we had pretty good pace,” he noted, “On lap one, I actually had the inside of Alonso at [turn] five, but then I locked up and went off so he got me back. We were able to get in front a few laps later, and then Seb looked like he just dropped a wheel on the astroturf at the exit of turn ten. Obviously, with the rain overnight and this morning, it was still a bit slippery, so I was able to get him and then I think Nico came in for a front wing change and we were able to get into the lead.
“The pace was pretty good, we were happy with what we were doing, the consistency was there and we were making the tyres last, so it was just really up to me at the end to stay consistent and stay focused. It was good fun!"