Ricciardo stars once more, from pit lane to fourth in Abu Dhabi

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Daniel Ricciardo has capped off his career season of Formula One in absolute style, with a run from the pit lane up to fourth in today’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Granted, this isn’t the best pit lane to ultimate final result run in Red Bull’s Abu Dhabi resume – Sebastian Vettel did the trick from last to a podium in 2012 – but consider the Red Bull is perhaps only the third best chassis in the field and that makes Ricciardo’s result this Sunday all the more remarkable.

Both drivers started from the pit lane after they were disqualified post-qualifying for a front wing infraction. Coincidentally, this makes for an odd book-end of DQs for Ricciardo, who was also disqualified from the season-opening Australian Grand Prix for a fuel irregularity.

No matter though. The pair started on the prime tires and quickly made it into the top 10 in the opening laps, with Ricciardo then into the top five past Lap 22 thanks to this strategy.

Ricciardo quickly became embroiled in a battle over fourth with Williams’ Valtteri Bottas, and Bottas eventually got through.

Still the strategy paid dividends because even once Ricciardo finally stopped for the first time, he only dropped to sixth. He was quickly back around Sergio Perez’s Force India several laps later, and was setting the fast race lap lap after lap on the options.

With Nico Rosberg out of the way due to his ERS issue, Ricciardo and Bottas were ultimately the protagonists for the final podium position. Bottas prevailed, but Ricciardo had still turned in a stellar drive for his 13th top-five finish of the season.

“Yeah really happy, I think it was pretty much a faultless race from all sides, from the strategy, to myself and the pit stops, everything was good so we did everything we needed to,” Ricciardo said. “I had fun passing, it wasn’t boring out there, so it was pretty much what I asked for. One spot better would have been nice, but fourth is really cool from the pit lane.”

He ends the year third in the World Championship, and the only driver outside the pair of Mercedes teammates to have won a race – Ricciardo took his first three wins of his F1 career in Montreal, Budapest and Spa.

“It’s been pretty much a perfect season, as perfect as it can be without holding a world title, so no real regrets, no complaints,” he said. “It’s nice to not only start the season well, but to finish it well also and I think all the way through it was good – we had a strong summer as well, so the start, middle and end were pretty good!”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.