Can Ricciardo do a Prost ’86? image

For the third time this season, Mercedes faltered in their 1988-esque campaign and there’s only one man ready to pounce whenever opportunities arise. Daniel Ricciardo rides a massive wave of confidence as more experts throw in comparisons with Professor Prost. You can’t help but think of Adelaide 1986 revisited.

Last year, during the Silverstone tire blow fest, I immediately thought of Adelaide ’86. In 2007, when Kimi Raikkonen snatched the win from the battling McLaren duo of Hamilton and Alonso, there was the exact same historical reference. Basically, whenever you think of drama in F1, be it rubber-related or just a Hollywood conclusion to the season, you just have to go back to 1986.

As we started the PitStops project in May, the Australian opening round was long gone, so we missed the chance to relive what had happened 28 years ago in our Classical Races series. We will make up for that in early March 2015, but for now I must assume that the big picture of that deciding battle is a known fact for most of the fans.

The Williams pair of Mansell and Piquet were at each other’s throats during the whole season. The Brazilian played the politics very well, being the one favored by Honda. Mansell made amends on track as often as he could, his outright pace being superior most of the times. And then, there was Prost, maximizing opportunities whenever the Williams-Honda pair faltered. In Adelaide, they succumbed in style, with a Goodyear failure taking Mansell out of the title race, as Williams quickly pitted Piquet to prevent the same dramatic blow. Prost went on to capitalize, claiming an unexpected title against superior machinery.

It wasn’t the first time when Williams was in this situation, as in 1981 Nelson Piquet was the opposing underdog that capitalized on the intra-team battle between Jones and Reutemann to claim his first world crown in the Caesar’s Palace parking lot. Stealing points from your team mate is a crime only when you have a designated first driver. There was no such thing in 1981 at Williams, nor in 2007 at McLaren. Alonso and Hamilton traded blows in their superior machinery and Raikkonen clinched the big prize.

Coming back to 2014, there’s an unprecedented tension in the air, just as it was in Hungary in 2007 after that cynical blocking move in qualifying by Alonso. When the stakes are high, the drivers dig deeper into their psychological warfare: Hamilton’s rapping appetite makes him use the words as punches, trying to get under Rosberg’s skin with remarks about his nationality, his wealthy origins or the soap-opera “we’re not friends anymore”. On the other hand, Rosberg spent many years to forge his positive image, but he’s now ready to take a leaf out of Schumacher’s book, when the stakes are suddenly higher.

In the end, one thing leads to another, as you could have been convinced in Monaco that Nico did nothing on purpose, but there’s a sudden move to reconsider that after Belgium. One thing is for sure – the German is ready to take the fight to Lewis Hamilton despite his raw pace disadvantage, just as Piquet did to Mansell in 86-87. I stated after Hungary that Hamilton’s decision not to let Rosberg past might have cost Mercedes the win. In Belgium it’s far more obvious how and why the one-two went away.

And who’s been always there to take the spoils? Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari is not quite there, Williams lacks some downforce, Vettel has a string of misfortunes, Daniel always delivers. As long as the Mercedes tension will remain incredibly high (and there’s no reason to think it will change), just keep an eye on the smiling Aussie. If he’s less than 50 points behind when we head to Abu Dhabi, he can still emulate the Professor.