By Abhishek Takle
SUZUKA, Japan (Reuters) – A beaming Daniel Ricciardo enjoyed some light-hearted banter with Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen at the Japanese Grand Prix on Thursday in an exchange that also underscored their rivalry.
The Australian, who arrived on a high after leading Verstappen home in a Malaysian one-two last weekend, posted a selfie on Instagram of himself and the 19-year-old Dutch driver with a group of local children.
“Nice welcome to Suzuka from Max and his classmates,” wrote the Australian.
Verstappen responded with another photograph of him sitting while Ricciardo and the children made two-fingered V signs. “Teacher was asking the class to name Daniel’s position on the team,” read the caption.
The Red Bull pair, who have both won a grand prix this season and raced each other in Malaysia, can expect to be the biggest rivals to champions Mercedes this weekend as well as themselves.
Ricciardo, who took his fourth career win at Sepang after Lewis Hamilton retired from the lead with a blown engine on his Mercedes, had not stood on the top of the podium since the 2014 Belgian Grand Prix.
Asked whether the elation of last weekend had worn off, the 27-year-old grinned: “Not really. Everyone’s made me feel pretty good today in the paddock.
“I think obviously the win felt good and I felt like in a way it was a bit of a relief.”
Mercedes are favorites to wrap up the constructors’ title at Suzuka but the chances of Ricciardo on Sunday again drinking the winner’s champagne out of his boot in his now trademark ‘shoey’ gesture cannot be ruled out.
Nor can Verstappen’s prospects either.
The fast, twisting Suzuka circuit should play to the Red Bull’s strengths while rain, forecast for Sunday, should also level the playing field for the Milton Keynes-based team to take on their German rivals.
Ricciardo was keeping his feet on the ground, however.
“It still feels good, but I’m not going to obviously hang onto it,” he said. “I think in terms of tomorrow when I get in the car I’ll reset and start from the beginning.
“Once the helmet goes on tomorrow, it’s back to business.”
(Editing by Alan Baldwin and Pritha Sarkar)