Daniel Ricciardo says leading the US Grand Prix for a few laps “felt like old times”, with Red Bull being able to challenge Mercedes in the early, damp stages of the Austin event.
The Renault-powered RB11 proved to be a match for the title-winning W06 Hybrid in mixed conditions, which led to an intense opening stint where the Australian traded positions with team-mate Daniil Kvyat, Lewis Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg.
Having fallen to fourth after an early Virtual Safety Car period, Ricciardo really came to life a few laps later. First, he opportunistically gained a couple of positions when Kvyat then Rosberg ran wide within the space of two corners.
The three-time grand prix winner then immediately set about chasing race leader Hamilton. After clocking a new fastest lap, Ricciardo was soon hot on his heels and made a move stick to hoist himself up into the lead.
“The beginning was really fun between both Mercs and both Red Bulls,” he said. “It was a good four-way battle. To see the Mercs not getting away from us was awesome. I was enjoying that. In the lead we were quite quick for a few laps and it felt like old times.”
Ricciardo promptly opened a decent gap in front before the fast drying track forced the entire field to pit for slicks. That would toll the knell for Red Bull’s hopes to secure its first win since Ricciardo’s success at Spa last year.
The 26-year-old made a slight mistake on cold tyres and was soon overhauled by a charging Rosberg. Ricciardo hung on to the points paying positions for a while before being harpooned by Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg and pushed wide by Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz.
“Once we put the slicks on we just didn’t have the pace. We struggled with the warm up with the tyres and also struggled a lot with braking today. It was so tricky in the dry and then obviously there were the collisions with Hulkenberg and Carlos. It went downhill from then on.
“Even though we were on slicks it was never really dry out there. The kerbs were slippery and there was still a bit of a puddle through Turns 9 and 10, so it was definitely tricky.
“It was a crazy race and I hope the fans enjoyed it as it was quite action packed.”
Despite this series of setbacks, Ricciardo was able to grab the final point on offer at COTA by stealing 10th place from Fernando Alonso and his ailing McLaren-Honda in the last lap.
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