They may have secured their fourth consecutive pole position of the season, and their third in a row at the Shanghai International Circuit, but that doesn’t mean Mercedes are beyond reach. Red Bull showed this afternoon that while the Silver Arrows remain the team to beat in 2014, the road to coming to terms with their domination has been significantly traversed.
The signs have been in plain sight all weekend. Red Bull, and Daniel Ricciardo in particular, have been there or thereabouts throughout all the practice sessions, dropping decreasingly subtle hints that they are coming for Mercedes. This culminated in two top-three qualifying positions for Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel. Getting within striking distance of Lewis Hamilton is no small matter, especially considering the one-lap pace he has already shown in the two other wet qualifying sessions this season. Perhaps even more impressive was they way both drivers beat Nico Rosberg who, in a supposedly dominant car, had no answer to the resurgent Red Bulls.
Hamilton was always dominant in qualifying today, but, more than usual, there were sudden realizations that the two Red Bulls were just behind the 2008 World Champion waiting to pounce. Perhaps not normal behavior for a bull, but this pouncing is just what Red Bull has gotten used to this season. Contending with a car less competitive than it would like as well as extreme weather conditions has made the usually proactive team masters of reactivity. They were always ready to react to Hamilton’s pace with a lap just about on par.
Credit must go to Daniel Ricciardo who kept everything in check the entire afternoon while at the same timer producing impressive lap times to keep within striking distance of the Mercedes. Speaking after the session, Ricciardo said he “couldn’t have gotten anything extra out of the car” and was pleased to be “rewarded” with a front row starting position. For now, at least, Red Bull will have to settle for second best. But one gets the feeling that there isn’t much left to be done until the RB10 is ready to content with the 2014 silver arrows.
“Our straight line speed wasn’t able to challenge that of the Mercedes”, said team Principal Christian Horner after qualifying. When the final sector of the lap is all in a straight line save for two corners, cars with a top speed advantage will pull ahead. This seems to be the only thing holding Red Bull back at the moment. Many in the paddock, including Mercedes, will concede that Red Bull is one of, if not the, best cars in terms of aerodynamic ability. Thus, when Renault produce an engine capable of the same top speeds as Mercedes’, it won’t be long until we see a different car sitting on pole position.
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