Undercut: Advantage- Honey Badger

3

Q: What do Honey Badgers eat?
A. Large Rodents
B. Tortoises
C. Bee Honey
D. Verstappen

Yep, I’m pretty sure you spent Sunday doing the same thing as me, watching Daniel Ricciardo remind everyone that he’s still got the goods and Max Verstappen is not King of the Mountain just yet. Yes, Daniel, we remember, you were the flavor of the month and rightfully so. Until you weren’t. Until Maxie Max showed up.

But that is the way F1 is, right??? It happens to everyone. Kimi was riding high at Ferrari and then Fernando came along. The same could be said about Felipe – Fernando is faster than you. Nico outlasted F1 royalty Michael Schumacher, then Lewis came along and spoiled the party. Sebastian was the wunderkid at Red Bull and says goodbye to Mark Webber – nice knowing you mate, and then Mr. Smiles [Daniel] out of nowhere properly out-races him (all year) – exit the four-time champion never mind it was for the holy grail of F1 constructors.

You see my point, this pattern is nothing new. There are only so many teams and so many fast drivers and they are bound to swap, overlap, and take each others seats over the arc of each other’s careers right?

The thing of it is, when a phenom like Verstappen comes around, it is not just that they suck up all the air in the room, they also suck the momentum out of whomever they are replacing. It’s hard to recover.

Yet in China Ricciardo really rose to the occasion and drove in a way that makes me think world champion. Yes, he was helped by a safety car and yes his teammate all but gave him the win by collecting Vettel, but what the Aussie did with those opportunities was what counted. By contrast, Valtteri Bottas was not able to do the same with a similar advantage in the closing laps against Vettel in Bahrain.

Meanwhile, Verstappen has been driving like an absolute rookie with zero race craft and zero patience – the two critical parts of a driver’s package that are usually in the shadow of what we all like to focus on – raw speed.

That said, and I’m in the minority here, after watching the Vettel/Verstappen incident at the apex of the hairpin on lap 43 in China I am of the opinion that Vettel left the door open and Verstappen took it and just made an error in his over-taking maneuver, which is quite different from the prevailing view point and all the drama that followed. Most people feel he was way out of line in even attempting that move.

Vettel too let him off the hook a little, saying it could happen to anyone. Rookie mistake? Vettel commented: “He [Verstappen] has done enough races.” I agree, this being his fourth season he is no longer a rookie – was he ever really a rookie in the real sense of the term with his pedigree?

To be clear, there is no doubt in my mind that Verstappen is faster at raw speed than Ricciardo but as one can see that is not enough in F1 and has not been for quite a while.

Back to our discussion. There are many takeaways from the first three races, not the least of which is it would seem the pecking order of the constructors has changed. Somewhere in my head Niki Lauda is on the radio to Toto Wolff saying, “Ferrari is faster than Us.”

However, I think the talking point that is the most interesting is not what happened to Mercedes’ pace, or what happened to Hamilton’s pace. Not the mysterious third paddle on Vettel’s steering wheel or that Ferrari has not been the car to beat the last two outings. Nor is it McLaren’s lackluster start to the season with a chassis that was supposed to be on par or better that Red Bull’s, although one could argue that in the hands of Fernando Alonso they have achieved more in three races with Renault than in three years of works work with Honda.

While Haas is looking to have gained more competitiveness this year and Renault has surprised me in their competitiveness even if the team thought they should have made more of a leap, the storyline that is developing with the most interest is the one at Red Bull: Ricciardo vs. Verstappen. This will be front and center in my mind for the next few races and I would love to hear your take on it.

I don’t mind being wrong about my predictions or opinions when it comes to F1, except one, when it come to FA ;-) which is why I am going to remind you myself that I all but wrote the Honey Badger off at the end of last year and at the beginning of this year.

Well, well, well, it would seem that I have carbon fiber all over my face and you know what, that is just fine by me.

There is no real inter-team fight over at Ferrari, party because the Scuderia will continue to sabotage Raikkonen to support Vettel. Over at the silver arrows, while Ham is most definitely in a slump, does anyone really think that Bottas has the goods to take the fight to Lewis? McLaren is a no-brainer – we all know how that is going to end up and while the Force India boys will most certainly clash again this year it will not necessarily be because of a true on-track fight – more like different tire wear and stubborn egos that will not yield.

But over at Red Bull this is shaping up to be a true teammate vs. teammate fight but not in the typical sense. A rivalry not born from animosity toward the other, like when Alonso and Hamilton were partnered at McLaren, nor the friction that Rosberg and Hamilton created in the second year at Mercedes.

No, something tells me this inter-team competition will be different. Different how, you ask? For one thing, Ricciardo already knows Red Bull thinks Max is the future of the team. Ok, fine – Ricciardo has dealt with that in a very professional manner. Secondly, there is a very good chance he is off to Merc or Ferrari, both of those team’s star drivers have said publicly they would have no issues with him as a teammate so it is not as though Ricciardo is fighting to stay in his seat at the energy drinks team. Lastly, I think Ricciardo is governed by a different kind of incentive which is all about proving his worth to himself and not to everyone else at this stage of his career.

This is a different kind of motivation. It is not a by-product of beating one’s teammate, thus he is not in a fight with his teammate. Rather this is a driving force that allows one to see past the obvious and the distractions and reach one’s highest level. In the Aussie’s case, this motivation is taking his driving to the championship level, which I propose we all witnessed in China when it was go-time.

Don’t misinterpret me, I think that when (if?) Verstappen calms down, and develops more fully as a driver, he is going to be very, very hard to surpass, but there is something about Daniel that keeps him in the game. Is it his intelligence, his easy going nature? I’m not sure, but he continues to remind us how good he is, albeit not as flashy as a Hamilton or a Verstappen, nor as cut-throat as Vettel or Alonso.

One thing is for sure, obviously he can drive a race car and just as obviously he can pass with the best of them. Furthermore he is well tempered and always so much fun to see on the podium with that big smile and the drinking-from-the-shoe gag.

I’ll leave you with this – Azerbaijan is up next, (by the time you read this free practice will already have begun) which is where Ricciardo’s one and only 2017 race win took place. My guess is that 12 months minus 2 weeks without a race win is not what he wants to repeat this year.

With suitors Ferrari and Mercedes lurking he will want to capitalize on this moment not so much with outright speed but with the intelligence that has served him so well up to this point. And won’t it also feel just a bit rewarding when for a third straight year he will have collected more points than his already re-signed teammate, what was that guy’s name again?

PS – The answer to the multiple choice question at the beginning of this article is:
E. All of the above

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3 Comments on "Undercut: Advantage- Honey Badger"

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Now that we know Ferrari gets more money as a “historical” team than Constructors’ World Championship, they can ignore any strategy to get maximum team points in a race and focus their efforts on the Drivers’ crown on its lead driver. Hence, Kimi becomes the sacrificial lamb every race weekend.

Johnpierre
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Johnpierre

So true

Member

A very good article, thanks Jean-Pierre, well argued.
I’m not sure that Ricciardo is doing anything extra this season. He was driving this smartly for the past two seasons, but the car was less competitive and often unreliable.
This season the car is much more competitive, and his team mate is trying too hard, which just makes Ricciardo look better and better.
Provided that reliability (or a change in the balance of support within RBR) doesn’t interfere, he should have an awesome year, and will almost certainly outpoint his team mate.