In what has been a turbulent season for Daniel Ricciardo, has the Australian proved recently he is still as competitive as ever?
“And for anyone who thought I left, I never left. I just moved aside for a while.”
That is what Daniel Ricciardo said on radio to his team-mates after winning his first grand prix in three years at Monza, but is the Australian back to his best?
Ricciardo started his Formula 1 career in 2011, racing 11 times with HRT, before moving to Toro Rosso for the 2012 season.
After an impressive two years with Red Bull’s ‘sister team’, where he racked up 30 points in a car that wasn’t very competitive, Ricciardo made a name for himself and got his promotion to Red Bull.
In his first season with Red Bull, the ‘Honey Badger’ stormed to 3rd in the championship, with an impressive 238 points and three wins (in Canada, Hungary and Belgium). He was only beaten by the two Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
2015 was a slightly more disappointing season for Ricciardo, finishing 8th in the driver’s championship. Then, in 2016 he endured his best season, finishing 3rd in the championship but eclipsing his 2014 points total by 18 points.
Following this were two more solid seasons in 2017 and 2018, finishing 5th and 6th respectively. However, Ricciardo was starting to become more unsettled at Red Bull due to the emergence of a promising young driver, Max Verstappen, who Red Bull wanted to push as their number one driver.
This caused somewhat of a rivalry between Ricciardo and Verstappen. Both drivers wanted to be the number one at Red Bull so that they would be best placed to win themselves a world drivers’ championship.
This rivalry peaked at the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, where the two drivers crashed into one another on the home straight, causing them both to retire from the race. In the end, Red Bull leaned towards Verstappen he was a promising young driver.
Ricciardo decided that enough was enough, and he left for Renault.
Renault had just finished 4th in the constructors’ championship and wanted Daniel Ricciardo to lead them into the top three as their number one driver.
However, Ricciardo struggled to adapt to his new team, and this showed in his results. He ended the season with just 54 points and finished 9th in the drivers’ championship. The 2020 season was an improvement, finishing 5th in the championship with 119 points.
By this time, the Honey Badger’s lacklustre two years at Renault was over. So, he joined an ambitious McLaren team to hopefully put his career on the right path again.
In the first half of the 2021 season, Ricciardo came under a lot of criticism after his struggles to adapt to a new team led to poor performances. He was thoroughly outclassed by his teammate Lando Norris, who was 4th in the championship going into the Italian Grand Prix, whilst Ricciardo was in 9th.
But then, at Monza, Ricciardo took a shock victory. It was a very professional drive where he looked in control the entire race, although he was helped by Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen’s crash.
Since this race, Ricciardo has earned 22 points in three races, including a P4 in Russia and P5 in the USA. He has looked far better compared to earlier this season, and there is no real sign of him slowing down.
But is this the best of Daniel Ricciardo? Although he has improved, I don’t believe he will ever recover the form that he showed during his 2014 and 2016 Red Bull seasons. At 32, he is past his peak.
Ricciardo has a two-year contract with McLaren, so next season on a fresh slate with new regulations we will truly be able to see what the Honey Badger is capable of.
Even if he isn’t at his best, one thing is for certain: Daniel Ricciardo is back, and that can only be a good thing for Formula 1.