The upcoming season could be Daniel Ricciardo’s final year racing for Red Bull but it could also be his last chance on going for the Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship.
The F1 community labels Ricciardo as ‘the smile assassin’ for his consistent big grin on the grid, especially when we witness his winning moments on top of the podium. The Aussie has sure been a fine replacement for fellow Australian Mark Webber when he retired at the end of the 2013 season. But both have one major career problem in common, they share no world championship glory between them.
For Webber, his time is up but Ricciardo may sense the opportunity of becoming a world champion getting slimmer and slimmer. Ricciardo is labelled as one of the nicest guy anyone has ever come across on the track, but perhaps he needs to change his attitude with an aggressive touch to take no prisoners in the hunt for race wins.
The 2016 Monaco Grand Prix saw him become very unhappy when his pit team failed to keep him ahead of Hamilton for first place. We saw a substantially different Ricciardo on the podium that day. It could have started a new Ricciardo image of not being a Mr nice guy for now on, where we would really see a true competitor in the Red Bull driver. However, his bid to become world champion has not really progressed since then.
The 2017 season saw what a strong team Red Bull could be for the next calendar. Strong finishes including three race wins along with another 10 podium places. There has been glimpses where Christian Horner and his team can compete with Mercedes at the top. Off the track we’ve also seen a good chemistry between Ricciardo and his fierce young team mate Max Verstappen.
Social media is a good format for race drivers and F1 teams to interact with their fans, and the Red Bull crew certainly like to have some fun in-between race weekends. Off the grid we see Ricciardo and Verstappen enjoy their social media stints together along with their interviews with the media. They are a good representation of friendship at work but that could all change in the upcoming season.
Verstappen is the future of F1 and if everything is put into place, the Dutchman may only be around the corner from getting his hands on his first world championship.
Since Verstappen famously became the youngest race winner by clinching the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix, the 20-year-old has become more and more confident behind the wheel. The first part of last season was a period to forget after retiring five times out of the first 11 races. But the summer break proved to put Verstappen up a gear by beating Lewis Hamilton in Malaysia and comfortably breezing through in Mexico to end the season with more wins than his team mate.
The wins in Malaysia and Mexico displayed why many expect Verstappen to become a future world champion. Verstappen’s spell at Red Bull so far has surely put him as Red Bull’s priority after his contract renewal shall keep him at the Milton Keynes team until the end of 2020. This has placed Ricciardo on the back foot reminding him the challenges and rivals he may have to face if he wants to become a world champion.
2018 is currently going to be Ricciardo’s final season at Red Bull if the contract stays untouched. The Australian has hinted of moving on and rumours believe he could make a move to Mercedes or Ferrari, Red Bull’s closest rivals.
Another doubt towards Ricciardo is his age. Ricciardo will be turning 29 this July and if F1 has taught us anything, it’s that we have recently seen drivers become a first F1 world champion at a younger age. Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were the youngest to taste world championship success. Hamilton was 23 when he won his first driver’s title in 2008 and Vettel was even younger by just a few months at the age of 23 when winning the championship in 2010.
Since then both drivers have been majorly consistent combining over 100 race wins and over 200 podium finishes since 2007. However, many could argue Vettel and Hamilton were in the right teams at the right time but they’ll be remembered for winning at least four world championships each which is a significant achievement.
But the shocking championship steal by 31-year-old Nico Rosberg over Hamilton at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in 2016 was a breakthrough moment that the likes of Hamilton and Vettel can be beaten.
However, Ricciardo may have felt some hurt when Hamilton didn’t mention his name as part of the Briton’s list of major rivals ahead of the 2018 season. Another example that Ricciardo needs to prove that he can race amongst Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen.
Before we enter the pre-season testing for 2018, many of us are unsure if anyone can stop Mercedes from winning the Drivers’ and the Constructors’ Championships for a fifth year running. If Red Bull can show those promising performances we saw in the last few races of 2017, then they may just be the dark horses for the title - creating an opportunity for Ricciardo and Verstappen which could be a recipe of a repeated Hamilton and Rosberg title showdown.
2018 is a big year for the Aussie, not only in a bid to become a world champion but to regain that status of a confident and strong winner.