Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has admitted that no-one inside the Milton Keynes operation expected Belgian Grand Prix winner Daniel Ricciardo to be the potent force he has proved to be in 2014.
Speaking in the wake of Ricciardo's third grand prix win of the season, Horner conceded that the Australian's performance in Belgium only served to further emphasise the ease with which he has taken to racing for the world champions. The victory at Spa-Francorchamps lifted Ricciardo to within 35 points of second in the drivers' championship and, with the squabble at Mercedes getting ever more heated, keeps him in the frame for a world title shot, but Horner conceded that he never expected the new boy to be leading RBR's charge.
“In all honesty, we never thought he was going to be as strong as he has been,” the newly-bearded Briton confessed, “We knew he was fast, we knew he was a really good racing driver, but I don't think any of us, and probably not even Daniel, knew just how good he was going to be. Of course, his confidence is sky high, [but] he's come in, he has no pressure, and he's driving beautifully at the moment. He's very economical with the car and the tyres and his pace is extremely good.”
Admitting that he would not have been tempted to place a bet on either of his drivers – with Ricciardo attracting pre-race odds of 30-1 for victory – at a circuit where Red Bull was not expected to shine, Horner also conceded that his team had benefitted from the lap two clash between Mercedes pair Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, which put the Silver Arrows on the back foot for the rest of the afternoon. However, that did not stop him heaping more praise on Ricciardo after the Australian showed that, in contrast to his previous victories in Montreal and Budapest, he could also lead from the front.
“It was quite an incredible performance,” he enthused, “I think the strategy, with the [low downforce] set-up that we elected to take, enabled us to be quick in sectors one and three, and extract the most out of the car. Sector two was always our weak point but, after the get-together between the two Mercedes, it was a question of getting Daniel's head down and getting on with it.”
With Rosberg carving his way back through the top ten after needing to replace his front wing and then flat-spotting his second set of tyres, Red Bull found itself with the quandary of either covering Mercedes' strategy or ploughing its own furrow in a bid to keep Ricciardo out front.
“Of course, we had the choice at the end,” Horner confirmed, “We thought that Nico would go for a new set of tyres at the end there, and we could have covered him, but we felt keeping [Ricciardo] only three seconds ahead on the same strategy would be putting him in more danger than leaving him out.
“We crunched the numbers very quickly and it looked like, if Nico was 2.5-3secs quicker, he would be within a second at the end of the race, so we gave Daniel a target on the lap time of 53.4 - based on Nico being in the 51s. Thankfully it just about worked out. He hit all his markers, all his braking points, never made a mistake and delivered a brilliant victory.”