F1 2020: The year of the Honeybadger

Only four races remain in the ongoing 2020 Formula 1 season, with Mercedes winning an astonishing seventh consecutive Constructor’s crown last week in Imola.

We are probably only days away from seeing one of the sport’s great heroes Lewis Hamilton pick up a seventh driver’s title too. When Hamilton does so, the Briton shall match the once-invincible Michael Schumacher in this regard.

But if that moment can become an absolute certainty at the Turkish GP is unknown. What we do know though, is that in a sport so eternally hardwired in the ‘now,’ change is not always a constant.

You have to work for it, you have to drive from the edge of your seat, from the last remaining atom of your body to stake a claim in something truly special.

Or shall we say, you have to be a certain Daniel Joseph Ricciardo – 95 points on the 2020 Driver Standings – to sneak past the obvious.

How good has Ricciardo been?

In a year where not an awful lot has, once again, gone the others’ way, Mercedes winning 11 in 13 contests, Daniel Riccardo being Daniel Ricciardo has outperformed most others.

Ricciardo sits in P4 in the Driver’s Standings, a position he’s risen to by virtue of dauntless consistency in that RS 20.

But it’s how he’s done what he’s done – fourth amid an incessantly competitive midfield featuring McLaren, Racing Point and Alpha Tauri – that’s made Daniel a very valuable stock.

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Not that his RS 20 – a fairly consistent and able machine – didn’t have it what it takes to flex muscle.

It’s the very fact that the French machine has been commandeered by a man so determined to excel that Renault have, by sheer will, become a significant player in a packed midfield.

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It’s actually incredibly funny that the very driver who began 2020 with a DNF at the season-opener at Austria is the one who stands with that incessant smile in fourth on the Driver rankings.

In fact, how many us even recollect that Spielberg retirement? It seems a very distant memory at this point.

Yet, here is Daniel Joseph Ricciardo, standing on top of a Ferrari driven by a guy significantly younger to him, holding an advantage of no fewer than 10 points, next-best only to the usual suspects up front- Hamilton, from Bottas, from Verstappen.

To a driver for whom life well spent means living it up, not just on the track but off it, albeit seldom with shenanigans but always with energy and vibe, Daniel Ricciardo’s 2020 drives are a reflection of his inner self.

Frankly, when you have the front of the grid locked out by what tends to become about as recurring a Mercedes 1-2, the Aussie couldn’t have had it more difficult in the 2020 FORMULA 1 World Championships.

Outperforming the car

Daniel’s been contesting with not one or two but four significantly powerful cars in the two Racing Points and the two McLarens, both of whom hold their weight well in corners and on straights.

That the former, as fully established, are nearly a carbon copy of the 2019 Mercedes car, but Mercedes, not some dreary backmarker may have only made the Renault driver’s ordeal tougher in 2020.

Not to forget that whilst the Perth-born’s task is to hold the fort in a packed midfield, he’s also got more company in the visibly improved forces in Alpha Tauri, the only other team apart from Red Bull to have won a Grand Prix this year.

But then, isn’t fighting to the last bullet so Daniel Ricciardo?

In the 2018 Chinese Grand Prix, whilst driving a car significantly powerful than his current Renault, Daniel won the race from sixth on the grid.

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So eternally impetuous was he in grabbing chances at every corner that Mr. Martin Brundle called him a ‘race burglar!’

To the minds receptive of poignant analogies, it may make sense that in 2020, where Ricciardo, has collected 95 of Renault’s 135 points, he’s done a similar thing.

Not race burglary, podium burglary

Nurburgring and Imola, two desperately dangerous tracks, both of whom mired in pain and endless duress (associated with fatalities, painful accidents), saw Ricciardo hold the context of his race by the scruff of the neck and deliver gold for a team that may have been happy with bronze.

To be fair to Cyril Abiteboul and the fantastic crew that have produced a machine competing with renewed vigour in a competitive midfield, was a second podium ever plausible?

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Immediately after collecting a very respectable fifth at the Sochi-bound Russian GP, Ricciardo made tall headlines akin to the towering Eifel Tower at the 2020 Eifel GP.

In bagging his first podium for Renault, his first for 2020, and also his first since Monaco 2018 (with Red Bull) post which followed a vapid 2019 run, Daniel stood tall at the daunting Nurburgring.

Truth be told, one of the moments of the current season was Daniel’s pass on Leclerc toward the closing stages and then his defending from Perez, perhaps only as intense as was the move on his ‘good friend’ in earning a P3.

Importantly, the result of a committed drive was Renault returning to where they last stood all thanks to Nick Heidfeld in 2011 Malaysia (the team’s last podium prior to Daniel’s at the Eifel mountains).

It’s been far from plain sailing though

2020 has also given Daniel his fair share of troubles, of which include – barring the disappointment at Austria – a P14 at the landmark 70th Anniversary GP, immediately after which came a lowly eleventh at Spain.

Not that a string of disappointing results could dim Daniel’s spirit.

The driver bounced immediately back after a lowly Portimao drive, where his teammate Esteban Ocon outperformed him to gather a fighting third at Imola.

Though honestly, a P5 start on the grid may not necessarily have warranted a podium finish, with the two outstandingly quick Mercs (Bottas pipping Hamilton for pole) and the fiery Max ready to unfurl the Bull Run!

But then was Daniel ever going to budge?

Arguably speaking, one might even have seen one of the most ‘unsung moments’ of 2020 given the sheer wizardry of overtaking Daniel produced at Imola of all circuits where his ostentatious pass around the outside of Kevin Magnussen Haas) at Tamburello pushed Renault up the order.

He would later defend brilliantly, on not the freshest tyres against a Daniil Kvyat who was driving akin to a man possessed.

What followed, at the end of 66 laps, was Daniel back to where he belongs; with that enormously sweet and innocent smile.

And that he convinced a six-time world champion about to lift another title drink merrily the ‘juice from the foot,’ as Lewis himself exclaimed once was all the more special.

Was the Imola podium featuring Lewis, Valtteri and Daniel the fastest current trinity in the sport?

Moreover, can Daniel be doing the magical things, if at all, a chance comes up at Mercedes?

Who knows? Why care when there’s a full McLaren season to go (2021), when so many opportunities of witnessing sheer awe-inspiring moments still await us?

What, of course, mustn’t be underplayed is that it helps that Renault have a really solid driver in the ‘Honeybadger’ who performs even on the very critical quali-days!

Thus far, he’s had 11 outings in Q3 to Esteban Ocon’s 6.

Does that tell us a thing about FORMULA 1’s world champion material, the man with the winning smile?

In 13 races held so far, the 31-year-old has 10 finishes inside top ten. With 4 more to go, Daniel may just go nuts and bring another podium collecting a trinity, aligning sheer will to improve and redoubtable resilience.

Suffices to say, Forza Daniel!

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