SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium, Aug 28 AP – The smile is back on Daniel Ricciardo’s face.
After a tough start to the Formula One season, which saw him struggle for form, watch a teenager upstaging him and then berate his own team, the Australian driver has now secured three straight podium finishes.
His second place at the Belgian Grand Prix on Sunday was full of the composure that the 27-year-old Australian showed in his first season with Red Bull in 2014, when he won three races, finished on the podium five more times and outperformed four-time champion Sebastian Vettel.
That raised expectations, but 2015 was disappointing with just two podiums, and this season started in a similarly frustrating fashion.
Four races into the season, as his team made a sudden switch by replacing Daniil Kvyat with Max Verstappen, he looked on as the 18-year-old Verstappen drove to a splendid win at the Spanish GP in May.
Ricciardo, who was fourth in Spain, felt that team orders worked against him in that race, and again at the ensuing Monaco GP in late May.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner apologised to him after a calamitous pit stop cost him a near-certain victory.
By this point, Riccirado’s grin turned into a surly growl.
“Two races in a row I’ve been screwed,” said an irate Ricciardo, who started that race from pole position and had been electrifyingly quick in practice. “They should have been ready. It hurts.”
He was in a much better mood on Sunday, after a composed drive saw him hold off Lewis Hamilton, who was third.
“It was cool,” said Ricciardo, who now has 14 career podiums.
“To keep Lewis behind was great.”
Ricciardo’s trademark broad grin was stretching across his face as he engaged in some podium antics with countryman Mark Webber, a former F1 driver with Red Bull who won nine races in his career.
Webber was interviewing the top three after Sunday’s race when Ricciardo, known for his zany humour, took off one of his racing shoes and asked Webber to drink some Champagne out of it.
Webber refused, then changed his mind as Ricciardo broke out into raucous laughter watching him sipping the bubbly out of his shoe.
“I think we just made our country even prouder,” he said to Webber, while race winner Nico Rosberg and Hamilton looked on.
Ricciardo is third in the F1 standings behind the Mercedes pair.