Formula 1

DESPERATE DAN STILL A BIG NOISE

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RICCIARDO makes the US Grand Prix look – and sound – like a silent movie, writes PETER COSTER:

THE sound and the fury has been missing from Formula One racing since the advent of the turbo-hybrid era in 2014.

The sound returned briefly at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas on Sunday in the form of Daniel Ricciardo entertaining a whooping crowd as he spun donuts in the 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo once driven by Dale Earnhardt Snr.

The Nascar legend was a boyhood hero of Ricciardo, who took his F1 number “3” from Earnhardt’s car.

The bellowing Chevy is owned by McLaren boss Zac Brown and the burnout was a bonus for Ricciardo winning the Italian Grand Prix at Monza.

The sound was awesome in an F1 era of 1.6 litre turbo-hybrid buzzboxes. The mechanics pushed the old thunderer out of the pit garage until its 358-cubic inch V8 fired up.

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There was enough grunt to make the hair on the back of the crowd’s collective neck stand up.

The primal scream of the V8s and V10s was a visceral part of F1’s past.

The late Ron Walker, the cheroot-puffing chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation and I lamented the mewling noise that might have pleased the naysayers when the hybrid engines were introduced.

They didn’t want the Grand Prix at Albert Park. Anywhere but their backyard.

At least there was a blast from that past on Sunday before Ricciardo turned down the volume as he stepped out of Earnhardt’s old banger and into the McLaren that has given him so much trouble this season.

He says he just stepped aside for a while, but it took a flawless drive at Monza to prove it.

He turned up in Texas in black shirt embroidered with wild horses and a stetson hat with a brim as wide as his grin.

Was he “Dead-Eye Dick” or “Desperate Dan,” he was asked? He responded in a drawl that would have done John Wayne proud.

The “Honey Badger” (that fierce little animal is painted on his helmet) has always been an entertainer.

Now, social media tells us Ricciardo is a lover as well as a fighter. His girlfriend is reportedly the daughter of  former F1 winner Gerhard Berger.

The Austrian was driving for Ferrari in the era when the cars almost doubled the revs of today’s buzz boxes. Fans required ear plugs rather than ear trumpets.

Film stars started buying Ferraris in the 1950s. Linda Christian kissed the Marquess de Portago goodbye at the last checkpoint in the Mille Miglia before he crashed when a tyre burst.

It was a kiss before dying. De Portago, his American navigator and nine spectators were killed when the 4-litre Ferrari 335 S ran into the crowd lining the public road.

There was national mourning and the race died after 1957 along with its victims.

Next year will see the sweeping changes to the cars in F1. Unfortunately, the sound will remain the same.

Formula One will keep its highly-developed turbo-hybrid engines.

Nevertheless, Ricciardo thrilled the crowd in Texas with a nerveless passing manoeuvre through turns 17, 18 and 19 on the first lap that saw him eclipse teammate Lando Norris and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz.

On lap 38 he banged wheels with Sainz as the Spaniard tried to pass, sending him into the pits with a damaged front wing.

Sainz didn’t much like it, but admitted he would have done the same in Ricciardo’s place.

The Australian finished fifth behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, Red Bull’s Sergio Perez, Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen.

Fast and furious in spite of it being like watching a silent movie.

Verstappen in the Red Bull now leads Hamilton and the fight for world championship supremacy by 12 points with five races remaining, the next in Mexico on November 7.

This has been racing without any quarter given by two of the greatest drivers in the turbo-hybrid era.

It has matured since these drivers risked serious injury or death in clashes at the British GP at Silverstone and the Italian at Monza.
At Silverstone, Hamilton tried to pass Verstappen on the inside on the fastest corner of the track in spite of Verstappen having the racing line in front of the Mercedes driver.

They touched at more than 300kph with the Dutch driver careering off the track and into the barriers with an impact of 52g.

Somehow, he survived without injury, which is a testament to the safety measures built into F1 cars.

Hamilton was penalised five seconds. At Monza, where Ricciardo was in the lead, it was Verstappen who was penalised three grid places for the next race after refusing to give way to Hamilton.

On Sunday, Verstappen was the victor by little more than a second after a race decided by strategy as well as racecraft.

Hamilton passed Verstappen, who was on pole, only to see the Red Bull driver dart in for an early tyre change.

Hamilton was forced to follow him three laps later and was behind when he came out. He hoped to pass Verstappen in the last few laps on his slightly fresher tyres.

But it was not to be. Hamilton was close but not close enough when Verstappen opened his rear wing when lapping backmaker Mick Schumacher, giving the Red Bull an unexpected turn of speed.

The crowd of 140,000 arm-pumped and hollered,  as much in defiance of the pandemic as in celebrating an American carnival, which it was.

Towering basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal arrived with the winner’s trophy in a Cadillac with the longhorns of the Lone Star State mounted across its bonnet.
At 2.16 metres, Shaq stood taller than the F1 drivers after they climbed on the podium. There were rap stars, movie stars, celebrity lovers and race losers, pom-pom shaking cheer leaders and enough American energy to power the F1 grid.

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Author: Peter Coster

PETER COSTER is a former editor and foreign correspondent who has covered a range of international sports, including world championship fights and the Olympic Games.

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