Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix 2015

Formula One: Ricciardo gets a buzz out of Infiniti and beyond

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo with fans during an Infiniti event at Paragon yesterday. He said Mercedes are "just too strong" but feels Red Bull can "definitely get close" to Ferrari.
Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo with fans during an Infiniti event at Paragon yesterday. He said Mercedes are "just too strong" but feels Red Bull can "definitely get close" to Ferrari.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Last year, Daniel Ricciardo was the darling of Formula One.

In his debut season for Infiniti Red Bull Racing, the 26-year-old shocked the sport by finishing third in the drivers' world championship.

He was ahead of his team-mate, four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel, who finished fifth.

Amiable off the track but aggressive on it, the Australian was tipped by fans and pundits alike to build on his three race wins last season (Canada, Hungary and Belgium) and challenge for the world title this year.

But the once-dominant Red Bull race car has been bulldozed by Mercedes and Ferrari this season, a situation not helped by tension with engine supplier Renault. The split was all but confirmed yesterday.

Ricciardo has been on the podium just once this season - a third-place finish in Hungary.

One would expect the Perth native to cut a gloomy figure. But when The Straits Times tagged along in his chauffeur-driven car from the team hotel to a promotional event yesterday, he hardly dropped his trademark smile.

During the 20-minute ride, he covered a wide range of his passions outside F1 - from his love for Infiniti road cars to his newfound admiration of designer suits after appearing in a GQ shoot.

Defiant and decisive, just like his driving style, he tipped Red Bull to shine across the 23 turns of the slow, winding Marina Bay circuit.

"This will be our best chance for another podium," said the Toro Rosso graduate who finished third in last year's race. "Low-speed circuits are where the Red Bulls are strongest because, aerodynamically, we are quite strong."

Strong enough to topple Ferrari, the team to which Vettel defected?

"Yes, why not? We can definitely get close to them," he replied without hesitation, though noting that Mercedes are "just too strong".

He did pause to reflect on the testing 2015 campaign, during which he had acknowledged Ferrari's interest in him, albeit in the context of his current Red Bull contract.

"I started the year thinking I would fight for the world title and tried to hang on to that belief but I kept getting disappointed," Ricciardo reflected in a wry manner.

"The car wasn't what it was and once I accepted that, the results have been more encouraging."

While the identity of Red Bull's next engine supplier remains up in the air, one thing is for certain.

Ricciardo is still a hit with the fans. Some 200 of them were at a meet-and-greet session organised by Infiniti Singapore at the Paragon mall yesterday.

As soon as he stepped out of the car, he was mobbed with requests for wefies and autographs - and he patiently obliged all of them.

Organised chaos reigned but, thankfully for his adoring fans, there was one constant: His smile.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2015, with the headline 'Ricciardo gets a buzz out of Infiniti and beyond'. Print Edition | Subscribe