What’s in store for Daniel Ricciardo?

Our snapshot of Red Bull’s shoey-sipping Aussie, and what’s on his to-do list for the 2017 F1 season.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

After two third-place Formula One drivers’ championship finishes in the past three years, the only way is up for Daniel Ricciardo in 2017 – but doing just that will be no small task. The ever-smiling Aussie has been (unofficially) the best of the rest for much of the V6 turbo hybrid era, but that era has been dominated by Mercedes to such an extent that he finished 129 points behind world champion Nico Rosberg last year, and 146 adrift of Lewis Hamilton’s title-winning tally two years prior. Still, a rules reset over the off-season means everyone starts with a clean sheet of paper to some degree this season; is that what Ricciardo needs to mount a legitimate championship charge? We don’t know the answer to that question yet, but we do have an inkling of what’s in store for the Red Bull racer in 2017.

The stats
Ricciardo’s fourth career victory in last year’s Malaysian Grand Prix makes him the most successful non-Mercedes driver of the past three years; only he, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel (three wins) and Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen (one) have been able to penetrate the shield the Silver Arrows seemingly have around the podium’s top step. Ricciardo has 18 podium finishes in his 109 career starts since the British Grand Prix of 2011, when, sporting an impressively fluffy mane of hair, he made his F1 debut with the backmarker HRT outfit.

What he did last year
Besides that win in Malaysia, which featured a breathtaking side-by-side sequence with Verstappen that must have had those watching on the Red Bull pit wall reminiscing about the Vettel-Mark Webber ‘Multi-21’ Sepang stoush three years earlier, Ricciardo was one of just two drivers in 2016 to finish all 21 races – Force India’s Sergio Perez was the other. He finished in the points in all but the Russian GP, when he was cleaned up at the start by then-teammate Daniil Kvyat. For all that Sunday success, it was a Saturday moment – his inch-perfect pole position lap at Monaco – that was arguably his signature showing of the season.

What changes in 2017?
In prospect, quite a lot. When Ricciardo finished third overall in 2014, it was seen as a nice story of a newcomer to the top echelon finding his feet, and, to some, a sign that reigning four-time champion and teammate Vettel had mentally checked out as he prepared to leave for Ferrari. Last year, it was a more dogged, precise and consistent Ricciardo that finished in the same place in the drivers’ standings, his performances so convincing that, for many, he was the driver of the year given the equipment at his disposal. He has the belief he can take the title if his machinery is up to the task, and with greater emphasis on driver fitness and strength this season than the past three, he attacked his off-season training regimen with honey badger-like ferocity, knowing that could prove a difference-maker in 2017. In short: it’s all about the RB13.

Number to know
Let’s make it numbers, plural. While Verstappen’s performances after he was parachuted in at Red Bull to replace Kvyat last year showed flashes of genuine genius, the stats don’t lie as to who was the biggest Bull in the pen. In 17 races as teammates, Ricciardo beat Verstappen 11-6 in qualifying, 10-7 in races, and scored 220 points to the Dutchman’s 191.

Chief rival
No prizes for guessing this one, is there? Verstappen has the pace, car control, self-belief and an indefinable sense of something special about him at just 19, and is being spoken about as a multiple world champion already after winning one race. Ricciardo will need to beat more than his teammate if he’s to win the world title he craves, but doing just that – again – can only elevate his high standing. Can what has been, to this point, an amicable relationship between the pair last if the fight for podium places becomes one for something bigger? Watch this space. 

Dream outcome
A strong opener in Australia and a podium to make up for the one he lost when disqualified from second in 2014 would be a perfect and record-setting start; sadly for Aussie fans, no local driver has stood on the rostrum (legitimately) at their home GP since it debuted on the world championship calendar 32 years ago. But for No.3, 2017 is all about number one. A title wasn’t a realistic proposition last year, but the regulation revolution of 2017 might just make Ricciardo’s dream a reality.

Nightmare realised
Early-season unreliability or Verstappen getting off to a stronger start, and wresting the upper hand within the Red Bull garage. Chasing Mercedes (and perhaps Ferrari if pre-season testing is anything to go by) will be that much harder if you’re trying to get on terms with the driver in the sister car.

Fearless prediction
Few will be surprised if Mercedes don’t start the season with a margin over the rest; momentum, even in a year of change, has to carry into the new campaign from the one that preceded it. But Red Bull made massive strides last year, and will continue to be relentless as the 20-race 2017 calendar unfolds. Which puts Ricciardo in a very good position to improve on last year’s third-place result, particularly with Mercedes undoubtedly weaker for world champion Rosberg’s departure. Slot him into second.

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