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Who's smiling now?

You knew about the megawatt grin. But what about the inner steel and rocket speed that's shocked everyone, from his Red Bull bosses to his world champion team-mate? Daniel Ricciardo opens up exclusively to F1 Racing

"Behind that Colgate smile," muses Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, "is a very determined young man."

You get the impression that this has come as something of a surprise - even to those deeply embedded in the Red Bull empire and those who have been closely involved in guiding the career of Daniel Ricciardo to this point. Why? Because they keep on saying so. There's the 's'-word - surprise. The 'e'-word - expectation.

There, Helmut Marko, Red Bull's motorsport adviser and lord chief justice of their young driver programme: "To be honest, he's surprising us."

There, Christian Horner: "I think where he has exceeded our expectations is that we knew he was quick, but we weren't sure how quick."

There, Adrian Newey: "Daniel has been massively impressive this year. He's certainly exceeded all our expectations."

There, Sebastian Vettel: "It's a positive surprise."

Fittingly for a driver with Italian ancestry, the Italians also have an 's'-word for Daniel Ricciardo: sprezzatura, defined by the author Baldassare Castiglione as, "a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort." Achieving great things while giving the outward appearance of barely trying.

What does the man himself have to say about how he asserted himself for promotion to Red Bull's top team and, once installed there, matched and even beat a four-time world champion for pace - while all the time exhibiting that same sprezzatura? Pause. Grin. Shrug.

"I got my shit together..."

Being Sebastian Vettel's team-mate involves some baggage, most contentiously the number two-plate that adorns the car. Even so, when Mark Webber announced his imminent retirement from F1 on the eve of the 2013 British GP, there were plenty of candidates for the Red Bull vacancy, Fernando Alonso among them. Dan was anything but a shoo-in. Received wisdom had it that he excelled in qualifying, but didn't always punch in for a points position at the chequered flag. Received wisdom can often be bunk but, in F1, perception is everything - and Dan, at that point, was being outshone by his Toro Rosso team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne.

His response would set him in line for the Red Bull seat - and, a little less than a year later, make him a grand prix winner.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself," he says, "particularly last year - it was my second season at Toro Rosso, so if I really wanted to move forward in my F1 career I needed to make that second year count. There were some changes within the team, engineers switching round, some new people stepping in, so I put a lot of pressure on myself to make everything work. And at times I tried too hard to make it all happen, I was staying at the track for longer than I needed, and basically wearing myself out - I was overworking and not seeing the results for it.

"So, round about this time last year - after Canada in fact - when we weren't getting the results on track that I thought we deserved, I took a little bit of time off and did just the opposite. I didn't think about racing for a while. I went to New York for a few days, just to chill out and let my hair down a bit, then I went back and spoke to some people within the team, and my trainer, to see if we could get a different approach going.

"From then on, yeah, behind the wheel I probably had the same intensity, but it was in the meetings and away from the track that I did things differently. Just, let's say, using more energy in the car rather than behind the laptop working out where to go quicker."

Insiders credit trainer Stuart Smith, also an affable Aussie but hailing from Brisbane rather than Perth, as a pivotal figure in this turnaround.