Mid-season review - Vettel vs. Ricciardo

Red Bull Ring

Ahead of F1's return to action at Spa we're taking a look at how the drivers are faring against their team-mates. Next it's the surprise intra-team tussle at Red Bull.

"Compared to the theoretical handicap we have, what we have actually achieved in the first half of the year is remarkable." 

So said Christian Horner when summing up Red Bull's 2014 season. It is undoubtedly true. The 'handicap' Horner refers to is the team's Renault engine, which has cost them a shot at this year's title. The RB10 is an excellent car - no surprise given that it was dreamt up by Adrian Newey - and with a Mercedes motor in the back they would be right with the Silver Arrows.

The fact that Red Bull are struggling, relatively at least, was meant to prove just how good Sebastian Vettel is. Sure he could dominate in the fastest car, but when he had to contend with inferior machinery we'd see the four-time champion's true quality.

But it hasn't quite worked out that way. Vettel has often looked good, but never great. Meanwhile, a rapid Aussie with a mile-wide grin has turned up at Red Bull and shown him how it's done.

Sebastian Vettel - Highest grid: 2nd. Highest finish: 3rd

Perhaps, after four successive world titles, Vettel is exhausted. Maybe he'd grown soft after facing an under-motivated Mark Webber for the majority of 2013. Or perhaps he really was flattered by his machinery for four successive years. Whatever the reason, this simply hasn't been Seb's season.

He's had his moments: he drove a mighty race in Spain, produced an excellent qualifying lap in Britain, and had the beating of Ricciardo in Hungary during the early stages.

But on plenty of other occasions Seb has looked lost aboard the RB10 and displayed a frustrated, perhaps even petulant, attitude to his team's problems.

Of course, Vettel is right to feel concerned: his reputation is at stake. Multiple World Champions don't allow newcomers to join their team and outperform them. He now has eight races left in which to redress the balance and emerge from the 2014 season ahead of Ricciardo. If he fails to do so, it will be a significant blot in his otherwise pristine copybook.

Daniel Ricciardo - Highest grid: 2nd. Highest finish: TWO wins

25-year-old Ricciardo has been the star of the 2014 season thus far. Both on and off the track, the personable Australian has stepped from the shadows of Red Bull's junior pool and seemed entirely at ease driving for the most successful team of the past decade.

He is ahead of Vettel in their qualifying battle, which isn't a bad stat given Seb's previous penchant for blistering one-lap pace, but Ricciardo's real achievements have come on Sunday afternoons. Two victories to Vettel's zero is an amazing achievement that no one could have predicted pre-season.

Ricciardo is not a superstar just yet. There is still a final performance threshold to cross before he can lay claim to that, but the first 11 races of 2014 have shown that he is on an upward curve. Where it will take him remains to be seen.

VERDICT: Ricciardo is ahead in almost every area, both in and out of the car. A convincing - and hugely surprising - victory for the Australian