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Ricciardo and McIlroy: Different kind of driving; similar resultMaurice Hamilton August 13, 2014
Many words have been spoken and written in recent days about Rory McIlroy following his outstanding back-to-back wins in two golfing majors, the Open and the US PGA. I was particularly struck by a powerful piece from John Hopkins, the correspondent whose opinion is highly respected and fashioned from many decades of covering golf.
I imagine such a depth of experience would make Hopkins a difficult man to impress. When he writes in glowing terms about McIlroy, not simply as an outstanding golfer but also as a genuinely nice guy, it's worth taking note. As I read the story of McIlroy's background, brilliance and quiet self-assurance, I was reminded repeatedly of Daniel Ricciardo.
They were born two months and thousands of miles apart in 1989: McIlroy in County Down, Northern Ireland; Ricciardo in Perth, Western Australia. Both are from modest, hard-working families who supported their offspring and shaped the values that make these young sportsmen capable of handling with dignity the responsibility and trappings of rapidly growing acclaim.
Gerry McIlroy worked as a bar manager and played to a golf handicap of one; Joe Ricciardo dealt in construction plant and travelled to Britain to attend the Jim Russell Racing School at Snetterton. Both were sound practitioners of their respective sports and therefore suitably qualified to spot potential greatness in their sons. At the age of nine, Daniel was racing karts and Rory's party piece away from the junior course was chipping balls from the hallway and into the washing machine in the kitchen of the family home.
Both sets of parents remain unobtrusively to the side of the world stages now occupied by their talented progenies. It's true that Ricciardo has not yet won the strictest definition of a world championship when compared with McIlroy's four majors but his progress has shown the same steely determination hidden behind a sunny smile.
McIlroy is emerging from a 17-month slump when his beautifully fluid drive deserted him, the audience barely able to watch as he lost momentum and hacked his way back to the fairway. A stunningly confident and calm attitude when he fell a couple of strokes behind last Sunday banished the lingering fear that the previous failure under pressure might return to invade his game.
McIlroy knew he could do it in the same way Ricciardo had to give himself a good talking to when the chips were down in the middle of last year. When the Red Bull drive for 2014 became available, Ricciardo was suffering a bad run, particularly in Canada were he finished a disappointing 15th on the day Jean-Eric Vergne produced a classy performance in the other Toro Rosso. Ricciardo thought long and hard about his weaknesses, talked at length with the team and turned up at Silverstone to qualify fifth and finish in the points. He never looked back.
Having secured the Red Bull drive, Ricciardo then had to quickly settle into the team with which Sebastian Vettel had won four consecutive championships. Second place on the road in Melbourne was an indication of how Ricciardo was his own man, the first win in Canada inscribing the evidence in the record book; the second victory in Hungary showing he could win absolutely on merit. Better than that, he was receiving approval from Fernando Alonso after their epic contest in Germany. Even allowed for Fernando playing destabilising politics a couple of weeks after his vocal tussle with Vettel at Silverstone, this was praise indeed.
It was much the same for McIlroy. On Sunday, he defeated Phil Mickelson, the winner of five majors playing at his tenacious best. "He's better than anyone else right now," said Mickelson, after losing by a single stroke.
When summing up recent events, particularly the demise of Tiger Woods, Hopkins described the outcome as 'The changing of the guard with a smile on its face.' Sound familiar?
Maurice Hamilton writes for ESPN F1.