While the debate rages on surrounding the outcome of the 2021 Formula One world championship, won by Max Verstappen over Lewis Hamilton amid a controversial conclusion to the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it is easy to forget the rest of drivers and teams.
Daniel Ricciardo commences his seventh full-time season and fifth with Red Bull at Australia this weekend.
Though he outscored Max Verstappen in 2017, he faces the prospect of being marginalised in favour of his younger teammate – a familiar tale concerning Australians at the outfit.
At 28, Ricciardo certainly isn’t reaching his twilight years. Quite the contrary, however, as he is just entering his prime.
Yet, if the West Australian wants to be the nucleus for a championship campaign in years ahead, this coming season will determine whether he continues to be afforded leading driver status at the Milton Keynes squad or elsewhere.
Just as Mark Webber fought a losing battle to retain favour alongside Sebastian Vettel following a near miss title bid, Ricciardo must remain at the peak of his powers in the coming months.
Helmut Marko’s relentless search for any excuse to provide the other side of the garage with superiority knows no bounds in the pursuit of justification for his latest prodigy.
Thus Ricciardo needs to capitalise on the promising form displayed through winter testing as Red Bull seeks to be on the pace from the outset after having languished in the season’s early stages since the hybrid era took effect in 2014.
The five-time Grand Prix victor remarked that “there’s a lot more confidence within the team,” with all aware that finding form in the final events won’t cut it for a concerted title effort.
This after finding consistent results with both drivers suffering reliability issues across 2017.
Regarding his long-term future, Ricciardo intuited that “the driver who is going to be in the hot seat is not the person who does the best negotiating, but the one who does best on track.”