[F1 2017 NEWS] DANIEL RICCIARDO: CRUCIAL TEST AHEAD

Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo must again up his game in 2018, if he’s to retain his status as one of Formula 1’s hottest prospects.

The Australian’s reputation has taken a hit this year, despite demonstrating again and again that he’s one of the sport’s most ferocious overtakers care of recent fightback drives in Italy and Brazil.

He also grabbed an opportunistic win in Azerbaijan, passing both Williams cars in one move at Turn 1 after the safety car restart.

SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“The high, of course, was Baku. I think even if I didn’t win, even if I was third, it still would have probably been the coolest race of the year ‘cos it was crazy.”

And, across 19 races, Ricciardo has also been on the podium nine times, five-straight between Spain and Austria. 

But what’s been holding him back from better results is his one-lap pace – the 28-year-old outqualified by teammate Max Verstappen, 13-6, up to Brazil. He still leads the Dutchman on points, but has had two fewer DNFs.

And at Red Bull it seems the tide has already turned toward Verstappen, with team principal Christian Horner suggesting he deserves number one status to fight for the world championship.

“Verstappen is in the best place in the sport to build a team around him to deliver our shared ambition,” he said.

Add to that Verstappen’s new contract, rumoured to be worth upwards of $30 million US dollars annually for 2019 and 2020 – said to be double his taking for this year and next, and it can start to seem Red Bull’s transition to Team Verstappen is almost complete.

At the moment, both drivers are still happy to joke about who will be Red Bull’s next world champion.

SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
“Max Verstappen! Who do you think?"

SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
"Daniel Ricciardo? Can't we finish equally? Ah, that's not possible?"

SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
"We could win 10 races each, get the same points and then DNF one race. Then it's a draw."

SOUNDBITE (English) MAX VERSTAPPEN,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
"But then we need to do, really, qualifying as well. And practice? Wow! That will be hard. We need to make notes?"

SOUNDBITE (English) DANIEL RICCIARDO,
F1 DRIVER, RED BULL RACING:
"It will be tricky."

But, the laughs will end should the squad produce a car capable of challenging for the crown.

To get back on track, Ricciardo has to challenge Verstappen much harder – to ensure he doesn’t become a default number two moving forward. But it won’t be easy with the chips stacked against him.

And while Red Bull are keen to sign-up the Australian until 2020, the offer likely won’t be near his teammates’ – the 28-year-old only on a reported $6.5 million US dollars annually.

The parallels to the squad’s former driver line-up of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber are uncanny, though the fireworks are yet to start.

One option for Ricciardo could be a switch to Mercedes from 2019 – with the Australian friends with 4-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton, ensuring peace remains at the Silver Arrows, should Valtteri Bottas get the boot.

But to do that, Hamilton has already said Ricciardo needs to better match up with who he considers his future main rival, Verstappen.

"You have to beat the person you’re with first before you can look at competing against someone else and beating them,” Hamilton said.

With Red Bull lining up behind Verstappen, Ricciardo has to deliver the top results next year to cement his long terms options, either at Red Bull or at another top team.