AUSTIN – The number 3 holds great significance in the U.S. motor racing scene, and today was no different in the 2014 edition of the United States Grand Prix.
Daniel Ricciardo – who has long been a fan of Dale Earnhardt, then interacted with Dale’s son and NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. throughout the year – took on the number 3 at the start of the year when driver number choices were introduced.
Then he delivered as good a result as was possible for the Red Bull-Renault on a day when the factory Mercedes and pair of Williams-Mercedes cars were the ones to beat: a third place, in car number 3, to end a three-race podium drought.
“Yeah, the 3, it is special, it is cool,” Ricciardo said post-race. “I’m such a fan of motorsports; NASCAR I’ve followed since I was very young. Watching Dale. It was my first go-kart number as well. So it was a no-brainer for me to choose the 3.
“To come here, what better way than to have the style of Dale on my helmet. Dale Jr.’s seen that, and we’ve spoken via social media a little bit. So it’s really nice he’s supportive, and cool to see it represented in Formula One.”
So how did Ricciardo make it into podium position, considering he started fifth and then had an admittedly miserable start?
Two quick overtakes, first on Kevin Magnussen on the opening lap before a safety car period and then another on Fernando Alonso after the restart, helped clear the way for him to get back to fifth and behind the Williams pair.
From there, strategy was the deciding factor in getting ahead of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas.
“I feel (the start) was my fault. I didn’t get the procedure right,” Ricciardo said.
“We had good pace. Williams were strong. I think we used good strategy to get ahead of them basically, and that paid off. We dropped a few places on the start, then got Magnussen into 12 and Alonso on the restart. I couldn’t hang with Williams at first but the longer the stint was the better we went. Mercedes was a bit out of reach, so third was the best we could do.”
That’s a true statement – Ricciardo was the only non-Mercedes powered driver within 95 seconds at the checkered flag. Fernando Alonso in sixth was 95.231 seconds in arrears of race winner Lewis Hamilton.
Third is also where Ricciardo will finish in this year’s driver’s championship, barring an unlikely turn of results for Bottas. Ricciardo has a 59-point gap to Bottas (214-155), while being 78 points back of second-placed Nico Rosberg.
Others have finished on the podium in the U.S. with car number 3 in the past, although that was frequently down to the team’s traditional numbers or the team’s previous year finish in the Constructor’s Championship.
Although mathematically eligible for the championship heading into today’s USGP, Ricciardo has now been officially eliminated from that.