Resurgent Red Bull showing signs of improvement
SPA, Belgium (AP) As Mercedes tries to get to grips with the latest dispute between its two bickering drivers in their tussle for the Formula One title, Red Bull is quietly enjoying an encouraging return to form.
It has been a difficult season for Red Bull, which had won the past four drivers' and constructors' championships thanks to the previous dominance of its car and the consistency of four-time defending champion Sebastian Vettel.
The roles have been reversed, with Mercedes rolling over everyone for most of the campaign and Vettel struggling.
Red Bull has won the past two races, however, with Daniel Ricciardo following his success at the Hungarian Grand Prix with another win at Sunday's Belgian GP.
In those races, Mercedes finished third and second, conceding some ground in the constructors' championship.
Down in sixth place overall, Vettel is showing signs that he can be more competitive. The German driver has qualified in the top three positions three times in the past four races; compared to three times in the first eight.
Although Mercedes still has a huge constructors' lead with 411 points to Red Bull's 254, Ricciardo is optimistic he can add to this three GP wins so far.
''I see good things ahead,'' the Australian driver said. ''If we can collect maximum points (in Spa) it gives us a bit more hope for the races that are coming up later in the season, Singapore, Suzuka (Japan). We'll see how it goes in Monza (Italian GP).''
Picking up maximum points on Belgium's vast Spa track was unexpected - due to the superior straight-line speed of Mercedes - even if Ricciardo's win was somewhat helped by the clash between Mercedes drivers Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.
Ricciardo is 35 points behind Hamilton, but with double points on offer in the season-ending race in Abu Dhabi in November, he remains hopeful of catching the 2008 champion.
''If we're within 50 points heading into Abu Dhabi, (then) while it's still mathematically possible, we'll keep fighting,'' Ricciardo said. ''Stealing some points on a circuit (Spa) where we weren't supposed to is nice.''
Team principal Christian Horner expected Spa to be a ''damage limitation'' race. Instead, he saw signs that Red Bull's speed is improving.
''We have managed to find a balance and Daniel has managed to find a confidence in the car,'' Horner said. ''Ultimately we benefited from the Mercedes' little get together but in like-for-like pace we were not far off them.''
With Monza only two weeks away, Mercedes must act fast to stop the Hamilton-Rosberg feud from escalating.
Hamilton was leading when he sustained a puncture to his left rear tire on the second lap, caused by Rosberg when he tried to overtake and hit his car.
It was a risky move by Rosberg, and Hamilton later claimed that the German driver had acknowledged in a team meeting that he had done it ''on purpose'' to ''prove a point.'' At the Hungarian GP last month, Hamilton refused team orders to let Rosberg go past, fueling the growing tensions between the childhood friends.
Mercedes has allowed them to race freely against each other providing there was no contact, but Sunday's incident has prompted a rethink.
''We are at that point and it needs to be managed going forward,'' Mercedes executive director Toto Wolff said. ''We will decide what to do when everybody is in a cooler, calmer frame of mind.''
Although the incident was not investigated by the stewards, allowing Rosberg to open a 29-point lead on Hamilton overall, governing body FIA still has the option of reviewing the matter.