F1

2017 F1 driver of the year: #4 – Daniel Ricciardo

Today RealSport analyses the man you voted your fourth best driver of the year: Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo.

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(Photo credit: Morio)

Why we watched him in 2017

Since making his debut in 2011 with HRT, later moving up to Toro Rosso and then Red Bull Racing, Australian Daniel Ricciardo has rapidly become one of the sport’s most popular drivers. This is down to many different reasons, but the two that stand out the most are his uncanny overtaking abilities, as well as his likeable character, both of which combine to make him one of the best drivers to watch, on or off track.

‘Danny Ric’ has always been reliable for bringing some choice overtaking manoeuvres to the table in previous years, and this year he didn’t disappoint one bit, becoming statistically the sport’s top overtaker, and providing many memorable moments for fans to savour for years to come. Highlights included his excellent ‘triple pass’ on Nico Hulkenberg and both Williams cars in Baku, as well as a classic ‘last of the late brakers’ move on Kimi Raikkonen in Monza.

Coupled with this exuberance on the track is an affable personality that endeared the young Aussie to the fans from day one, and seeing his interviews, especially when he is part of the drivers’ press conferences, is a definite highlight of any weekend. Even when things don’t go his way, he is still able to crack a smile and find positives in the situation.

He is also responsible for bringing the ‘shoey’ into the mainstream, roping the likes of Lance Stroll,  Martin Brundle, and even Sir Patrick Stewart into this ritualistic celebration. He has indicated that he may give the shoey the boot in the future though, but when he wins his next race I would expect all bets to be off.

World Drivers’ Championship performance

Unfortunately for Ricciardo and Red Bull, once winter testing was over it was clear that they were the third best team behind Mercedes and Ferrari. This was mainly due to the lack of pace from their Renault power unit as the team produced their usual strong aero package. Regardless, this didn’t stop Ricciardo from having a strong season, even if it ended with a whimper rather than a bang.

Two retirements in the first four races were hardly an ideal start to the year, but a fourth and fifth place in the two races he did finish showed the potential was there for Red Bull to get on the podium. Indeed, this was to be Ricciardo’s home for the next five races, taking four third places and a win in Baku, making him the first Red Bull to win in 2017, although it must be said his teammate Max Verstappen was experiencing a terrible run of back luck at that point in the season.

After the summer break Ricciardo would stand on the podium a further four times, but could not take another win despite Verstappen taking two in Malaysia and Mexico. Sometimes he did seem to be lagging slightly behind Max, but he also had a bad run of luck at the end of the year that compromised his final standing in the championship.

He had been in fourth for most of the year, but three retirements in the last four races allowed Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen to creep back ahead of the Aussie as the fireworks lit up the night sky in Abu Dhabi. An unfortunate end to the season, but Red Bull and Ricciardo’s focus will have been on 2018 for some time now.

Best weekend

Ricciardo had many great drives over the course of the 2017 season, such as a storming race in Monza and his hard fought podium in Spa, but his one win of the year in Azerbaijan has to be his highlight of the season.

Qualifying in tenth position after hitting the wall in Q3, Ricciardo drove an incredible race to put himself in the position to win when the leaders hit trouble later on. Some may say he was lucky that Vettel had his penalty and Lewis Hamilton had his headrest issues, but make no mistake that this win was well earned. The triple overtake on Felipe Massa, Stroll, and Hulkenberg was certainly evidence of that!

Worst weekend

After retiring six times over the course of the year, two DNFs stand out in particular for Ricciardo. Abu Dhabi must have hurt, as his third retirement in four races ultimately cost him fourth in the standings, but I would wager Mexico was even worse for him.

After showing decent pace in practice, Ricciardo then experienced several issues that led to an engine change and a grid drop. To make matters worse, he struggled with his tyres in qualifying and could only manage seventh while teammate Verstappen was challenging Sebastian Vettel for pole. He ultimately started the race in 16th.

From here he had a decent start, but it soon became clear that he had some sort of problem and he eventually retired with a turbo issue. He summed it up best himself when he said that, “obviously the weekend’s turned to crap.” To make matters worse for him, Verstappen only went and won the race after Hamilton and Vettel came together, showing what he potentially missed out on.

The final insult was to come at the next race in Brazil, where the changes necessitated by the retirement resulted in yet another ten-place grid drop.

Looking to 2018

2018 is a crucial year for Red Bull. Along with Ricciardo they also have Max Verstappen in what is probably the strongest driver pairing on the grid, and these guys are getting a bit impatient. Both have stressed their aims of competing for the title next year, and in Ricciardo’s case a failure to provide on Red Bull’s part could lead to him searching for other opportunities.

The Aussie is only contracted for one more year with the Milton Keynes-based outfit, and rumours have been swirling all year of talks with Mercedes, and even Ferrari for 2019. With the likes of Valtteri Bottas only having a one-year contract with Mercedes, and the predictable retirement rumours that always follow Kimi Raikkonen into every season, these are doors that a driver of his calibre has a good chance of opening if he finds himself on the end of another ‘best of the rest’ scenario.

The onus then is really on Red Bull, and engine supplier Renault to deliver a quick, reliable car next year for Ricciardo and Verstappen. If they can accomplish this, then I think Ricciardo would undoubtedly be a title contender. It would be a fascinating contest between himself and Verstappen, and it would be great to see how this might play out within the team, especially considering their relationship so far has been a pretty friendly one.

All I know is that a lot of fans, myself included, want Red Bull to get it right and really take the fight to the guys at the front next year.

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