One down, twenty to go. After a somewhat successful finish in Melbourne for arguably F1’s best driver line-up in Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, the Red Bull Racing duo look ahead to the first back-to-back Grands Prix of 2018.
With both upcoming races in Bahrain and China being ‘flyaway’ from the European countries where most teams are based, and following on from the season-opening race in Albert Park, all teams up and down the pit lane have been playing the conservative game. New parts are scarce when abroad, and any damage whatsoever can cost the team dearly in this first month of competition.
For Red Bull Racing, they come into this weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix hoping to be a little stronger and have a little more in luck than almost two weeks ago.
Their start in Melbourne was just above average. Set-up troubles gave headaches to Ricciardo on Friday and Verstappen on Sunday with a costly spin sent the Dutchman down the order to finish sixth after 58 laps.
Added to that, the obscure rule Ricciardo broke during FP2 by travelling too fast under red flag conditions. That three-place grid penalty could have cost him a chance at the podium on Sunday.
The Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir is a neutral track for Red Bull Racing. There are many long straights that disadvantage their TAG Heuer-badged Renault engines, but a great technical area in Sector 2 will showcase the RB14 chassis’ strengths to the maximum. They can challenge for a podium come Sunday but the battle overall as we know it so far is so close and tight with a great midfield chase behind the ‘big three’ teams.
“Bahrain is great. The weather is warm, the paddock is modern, the hotel is amazing and it’s a really nice week that I enjoy after such a busy home race in Australia,” Ricciardo explained ahead of this weekend’s Grand Prix.
“It’s actually quite a tricky event as the practice sessions are in the heat of the day but the important sessions, qualifying and the race, are in the evening when the track cools so you have to be very adaptive with the set-up.
“Normally if you’re quick you don’t want to touch the car but in Bahrain you are forced to as the conditions change so much in the evenings. The track is one that I’ve always done well on so let’s hope it continues to be good to me.”
“The track itself is very technical,” Verstappen added. “You have some slow corners and then you end up in some really fast corners which makes it a fun circuit.
“Driving under the lights is always nice as we don’t get a lot of opportunity throughout the year.
“The go kart track there is really good, I had a world championship race there when I was younger. It was very new at the time but I really enjoyed it.”
Five days later, the cars hit the track again, this time at the Shanghai International Circuit.
The team has had great drives here in the past, earning their maiden win and 1-2 finish in 2009 when Sebastian Vettel won the race and teammate Mark Webber finished second. Webber once again made the podium in 2011 starting from eighteenth.
But who could forget Max Verstappen’s glorious wet weather drive last year where he started from sixteenth and also made it to the podium dancing his RB13 around the outside of F1 veteran Kimi Räikkönen at the long sweeping Turn 8 right-hander.
“China was good for me last year with a podium,” Verstappen said proudly.
“As the track is so wide it is good for overtaking, this usually leads to an exciting and action-packed race. It is quite heavy on tyres, the fronts especially. The Chinese fans are really passionate so I look forward to seeing them out in force again and us all having a great race weekend.”
“Shanghai is a track that for some reason I didn’t initially get to grips with but over the years [I’ve improved],” furthered Ricciardo.
“It’s a super technical track; Turns 1 and 2 are pretty crazy and hard on the front tyres but if you can manage that you’re normally in for a good race.
“I’m still yet to get a podium there but it’s always a track I’ve had good speed on so hopefully we will have a good chance with the RB14.
“There are also some pretty hardcore fans in China and they get me to sign random photos from when I look about 16 walking around shopping centres somewhere in the world. I have no idea how they manage to get their hands on pictures like that, but the fans who come to the track are super passionate which is always nice to see.
“I’m a fan of back-to-back races and it’s good to keep the ball rolling.
“Either way, after the first leg you’re keen to race again. If you have a good result in the first race then you’re keen to let that continue and even if you have a bad weekend you want to make up for it.
“For me, having back-to-back race weekends is perfect.”
Images via Aston Martin Red Bull Racing and Ignite Image